Brandon Barnes has been chasing his dream of playing in the big leagues long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed in the Minor Leagues except for long bus rides and a chance to prove what he can do.
Barnes has been plugging away in the Astros' Minor League system since being drafted in 2005, and last weekend he got promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City after playing the first two months of the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.
Barnes, 26, isn't on anyone's list of top prospects, but he's a favorite in the organization because of his work ethic and team-first mentality. He joined his teammates Sunday in Albuquerque after hitting .317 with seven homers, 31 RBIs and a .944 OPS in 44 games for the Hooks.
"It's always nice to be that one step away," Barnes said. "It's been a long road for me in the Minor Leagues so far and I've never given up. I want to keep my dream of getting to the big leagues. It's been my dream since I was four years old. If you get the chance to go to Triple-A and prove you can play at this level, you might get a chance to play in the Major Leagues."
Astros director of player development Fred Nelson lauded Barnes' overall makeup and defensive abilities, saying it's his offense that has held him back. Nelson said returning to Triple-A, where Barnes hit .197 in 71 games last year, will be a good test to see what kind of progress he's made.
With outfielder Justin Ruggiano getting traded to the Marlins on Saturday, that opened up an outfield spot for Barnes, a right-handed hitter joining a pretty left-handed dominant lineup.
"He was there last year and was well-liked and he was well-liked in Spring Training [in Major League camp]," Nelson said. "He's still a guy that's got some tools. He's one of the best defensive outfielders we have in the organization and he's got power and has the ability to drive the ball into the gaps and produce some runs. I think it will be a good challenge for him to go back to Triple-A and see if that time he spent back in Double-A last year and this year allowed him to make some adjustments in his overall plan, maybe his pitch selection."
When he wasn't able to get a job playing winter ball in Latin America last winter, Barnes spent six weeks in Australia playing for the Sydney Blue Sox of the six-team Australian Baseball League. He hit a combined .238 last year between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City.
"I worked on a lot of things in the offseason," Barnes said. "I knew I had to fix my swing and my mental approach. The time I went to Australia and in Major League camp this year, I really worked on stuff in Spring Training and it helped me make adjustments at the plate, and I'm ready to prove to everybody I can play at the Triple-A level and the big league level."
DeShields making baserunning strides
While former first-round Draft pick Delino DeShields Jr. continues to make strides with the bat and continues to get adjusted to playing second base, there's little doubt about his ability to take over a game with his legs.
DeShields entered play Monday for Class A Lexington with 31 stolen bases and had been caught only four times, which marks a huge increase in his success rate over last year in Lexington when he stole 30 bases for the entire season and was thrown out 11 times.
"We're right at a third of the way through the season and he's reached his totals [from last year], plus he's cut his caught stealing by 80 percent or so," Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said. "I think that's a really good sign. I think when it's all over and done with, he's going to be a second baseman that's got power to drive the ball in the alleys, and probably as he gets older, he'll hit more homers and maybe have more power."
Nelson last week got a chance to watch Lexington play for a few days and said when the Legends' offense was clicking was when DeShields was getting on base and scoring runs. DeShields hit .220 in his first full season of professional ball last year, as he made the transition to second base after playing outfield in high school.
"We overloaded him a lot last year with him going out to play second base in that league with really no experience whatsoever, and he adapted remarkably well," Nelson said. "He's still got a long way to go defensively, but he's improved so much. Like any young player, he still has a lot of work to do on offense."
DeShields entered Monday hitting .247 with two homers, 17 RBIs and a .364 on-base percentage for Lexington.
Wallace returns to action for Corpus Christi
Catcher Chris Wallace, who missed three weeks with a groin injury, returned to action Saturday and went 3-for-3 for Double-A Corpus Christi against Springfield. That was his first game action since May 2.
Because Wallace missed so much time and there are two other catchers on the roster at Corpus Christi (Jair Fernandez, Randy McCurdy), the Astros are going to protect him by playing him perhaps every other day and getting him some at-bats at designated hitter to make sure he's 100 percent.
"That will give us a chance to give him a breather," Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said. "He's been away from squatting and moving side to side and the wear and tear on the legs. He should get stronger. We're glad to have him back in the league."
• Jobduan Morales, the switch-hitting catcher acquired from the Marlins' organization Saturday in a trade for outfielder Justin Ruggiano, is at extending spring training and could begin his Astros career at short-season Tri-City of the New York-Penn League, where he played last year.
• Entering Sunday, Lexington starters Luis Cruz (4-1, 3.20 ERA) and Mike Foltynewicz (6-1, 2.40) were tied for South Atlanta League lead with 56 1/3 innings pitched. Nick Tropeano (2-3, 2.73 ERA) was tied for fourth at 52 2/3 innings.
• Right-hander Brian Bass, who has appeared in 101 career Major League games, including four for Pittsburgh last year, has been signed by Houston and is scheduled to start for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Bass, who was playing in Korea, is 9-7 with a 5.16 ERA in 101 career games, mostly as a reliever.
• Jonathan Singleton, who started in left field for Double-A Corpus Christi on Sunday, was hitting .325 with nine homers and 35 RBIs entering Sunday. He had four homers and 11 RBIs in his previous three games.
• An intriguing player emerging at Class A Lexington is infielder Zach Johnson, who entered Sunday leading the South Atlantic League with 51 RBIs through only 46 games. He was selected in the 15th round of last year's Draft out of Oklahoma State. He had 40 RBIs last year in 72 games in his pro debut at Tri-City.