Hunter Barco drew rave reviews from professional scouts as a prep star at The Bolles School, a private prep school in Jacksonville, Florida.
Leading up to his senior season, the left-handed pitcher was in the mix to go early in the first round of the 2019 MLB draft. But a shoulder strain caused him to miss time during his senior season and impacted his draft status.
The Milwaukee Brewers offered him a multimillion-dollar signing bonus. But the dollar amount was less than his desired amount of $3 million. Barco didn’t budge and honored his commitment to the University of Florida.
The decision to attend Florida has worked out well for Barco. He has worked with a highly-regarded coaching staff and competed against top-notch competition. It has allowed Barco to refine his skills in preparation for a future pro career. Scouts project Barco, who has ace potential, as a likely first-round pick in the 2022 draft.
“In just the grand scheme of things, there is a lot more success with guys who have had the two or three years of experience in college,” Barco said. “It was the best decision coming to Florida. The amount I have developed here since high school isn’t even close. I have made such a big jump right now compared to three years ago that I don’t regret my decision one bit.”
Barco received a taste of the college level his freshman year in 2020. The season ended prematurely due to the pandemic. He posted a 1.40 ERA with 26 strikeouts and six walks allowed in 19 1/3 innings in five appearances (four starts).
Last year, Barco served as a weekend starter for Florida. He recorded a 4.01 ERA with 94 strikeouts and 26 walks allowed in 83 innings in 16 starts. He lacked consistency at times last season but flashed the potential scouts raved about during his prep career.
“It was a huge learning experience because the SEC is a whole different animal and different from anything I have experienced,” Barco said. “Getting to be in the weekend rotation for every single week of the season last year was really important to the development stage of where I am at now.”
Barco is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-handed pitcher who throws a four-seam fastball, slider, splitter and changeup from a three-quarters arm slot and deceptive delivery.
His top pitch is his mid-90s fastball that features plenty of run and late movement. It is a tough pitch for hitters to pick up due to his delivery and the pitch’s movement. Barco likes to attack right-handed hitters inside with his fastball, as it appears like it will hit them before tailing back over the plate.
Barco’s slider has made major strides to develop into his best off-speed pitch in his time at Florida. He has found a consistent release point with his slider. Barco will throw his slider for a strike at 80-82 mph and then burry a hard slider, around 84-86 mph, in hopes of generating a swing and miss.
Barco’s splitter also is a quality pitch that he uses as a strikeout pitch.
Barco boasts an impressive four-pitch mix and the intangibles to be a frontline starter in pro ball. He cites his competitiveness as the biggest strength in his game.
“I am not going to back down from anyone,” Barco said. “I don’t care who is in the box. I’ll come at you with my best stuff.”
In the offseason, Barco has worked on his consistency with his slider and splitter. He also has focused on staying through the ball, which has already translated to throwing strikes at a higher percentage.
After competing with Team USA in the summer, Barco has worked on a changeup. He wants to use his changeup when he is behind in counts to record a strike instead of always relying on his fastball, he said.
Barco hopes his offseason work will allow him to take another step forward in his development this season. Florida will rely heavily on Barco, as he likely will serve as the team’s ace this spring.
Expectations were high for Florida last season. The Gators were the unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the country. They didn’t necessarily live up to the preseason expectations, as their season ended in the NCAA Regional. They hosted the regional but lost to South Florida and South Alabama to finish with a 38-22 record.
This season, the Gators have another talented team. They hope to learn from the adversity they faced last year and claim the program’s second-ever national championship this season.
“We would read stuff that was saying that we were possibly the best college baseball team in history,” Barco said. “Then we went out there and didn’t really perform up to our capabilities.
“It was good in the sense that it puts us in a better situation this year where we know we can’t go out there and expect to win. We have to give everything we have and put the work in. We just have to go out there and play like it’s our last.”
You can read more of Hunter Barco’s comments on his development into a top MLB draft prospect HERE.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.