Barnhart was a high school teammate of future Major Leaguer Drew Storen. They keep in touch via texting, and they play golf occasionally, especially in the offseason.
Other than rooting for Chipper Jones and the Braves as a youngster, Tucker is all things Indianapolis, pulling for the Colts and Pacers, hating the New England Patriots, Chicago Bulls, and New York Knicks.
He has a very good work ethic and a solid aptitude for the game. His instincts are impressive. And he is a great guy off the field, too.
In 2009, as a senior in high school, Barnhart committed to a baseball scholarship to Georgia Tech. But instead he signed with the Reds after getting drafted.
June 2009: The Reds chose Tucker in the 10th round, out of Brownsburg High School in Indiana.
In 2012, Baseball America rated Barnhart as the 25th-best prospect in the Reds' organization. He was at #23 in the offseason before 2013 spring camps opened.
Tucker jumped up to #10 in the winter before 2014 spring training, but back down, at #28 in the spring of 2015.
Barnhart's dad Kevin knew his son had really made it when he saw him wearing a Reds uniform with No. 16 on it in April 2014.
"This is the first time he doesn't have an offensive lineman's number," his father said. (Barnhart wore No. 68 in spring training for the Reds.)
"I was an offensive tackle," Barnhart said with a laugh.
"Bronson Arroyo told me once if your two numbers add up to less than 12, you've got a chance to make the club."
Barnhart was called up to the Reds when starting catcher Devin Mesoraco went on the disabled list with strained oblique. Tucker backed up Brayan Pena.
"It's been a whirlwind 48 hours," Barnhart said before the game. "It's a blessing and something I've dreamed about as long as I can remember. To be here on Opening Day for my first day in the Majors is definitely special."
Known for his defensive ability, Tucker was the 2009 Mr. Baseball from Brownsburg High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Barnhart is the third player from Brownsburg in the Majors, joining pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen.)
Barnhart loves to play his guitar and golf in his free time.
Favorite Movie: Gladiator; Favorite Food: Steak; Game day ritual: Music, music, music.
Tucker married his longtime girlfriend, Sierra Thompson on November 21, 2016—one year after he'd proposed.
"I'm a traditional guy, so I talked to her dad and talked to her family," Barnhart said. "We were in Vail, Colorado for a little vacation and decided to do it there. We were outside by the fire pit, we had some wine and I asked her out there. I had never been so nervous during my Major League debut. It was pretty crazy. She was crying. I could hardly get any words out because I was stumbling over them. She said yes, obviously.
Aug 31-Sept 3, 2017: Tucker was on the paternity list. Tatum Elliott Barnhart was born.
Barnhart is a genuine team player, no question about it.
Tucker, a resident of Indianapolis, will be donating $7,500 to The Humane Society of Indianapolis. He said his desire to give back stems from his love for animals.
Barnhart has done work with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. He has worked to unite the two organizations, using his platform as a Reds player and Indianapolis resident to give back to both.
"He's just a good pro," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's great with our fans, he exemplifies high character. I could go on and on. He's just a wonderful young man. A guy that our fans kind of rally around."
"I got a lot of good advice growing up in professional baseball," Barnhart said. "'Never become bigger than the game,' and things like that. So I try to give back as much as I can." (Wittner - mlb.com - 9/4/18)
2019 Season: Tucker tries hard not to play the What if? game, but he knows it’s almost unavoidable this offseason. Barnhart will be the first to admit he had a lousy first half of 2019 before an oblique injury and batting approach overhaul changed his trajectory.
“I’m going into the offseason excited but there will be a little, ‘Dang, I wish I had found this stuff a little earlier.’ I will come back next year and build on the second half of this year,” Barnhart said on Sept. 26.
Barnhart finished the season with a line of .231/.328/.380 but had a career high of 11 home runs with 40 RBIs in 114 games.
Here’s a look back at Barnhart’s 2019 season:
What went right?
After he missed a month on the injured list with a strained right oblique, Barnhart returned July 26 feeling renewed mentally after realizing how much he missed baseball.
“Up until his injury, really, he struggled. That’s never fun to go through,” Reds manager David Bell said in August. “At the same time, I wonder if he looks back if he’ll be glad that it happened. You never, ever want to have an injury but that time away, he’ll look back and hopefully see it as a turning point in the season and maybe even his career. Everything he does—catching, handling the pitching staff, he’s made improvements and got better from what he was, which is a really good catcher.”
Barnhart made a change to his hitting approach that allowed him to better read the ball and see it longer. That also enabled him to make his decisions a little later and be more selective with his swings.
In the second half, Barnhart batted .273 with an .815 OPS and six homers while cutting down on his strikeouts—33 in 177 plate appearances.
“For me, I would consider it a swing overhaul in the middle of the season,” Barnhart said. “When I came back from the IL, it’s been a tale of two seasons for me, really, going from the way I used to hit to the way I hit now.”
Under the guidance of new catching coach J.R. House, Barnhart made strides defensively as he improved with his pitch framing. He threw out 22.6 percent of attempted base-stealers, which would have been good for sixth in the National League had he accumulated enough innings among qualified catchers.
What went wrong?
A switch-hitter, Barnhart struggled from both sides of the plate as he batted .191 before the All-Star break while striking out 50 times in 187 plate appearances. He lost his regular catcher status and began splitting more time with Curt Casali.
As a righty batter, Barnhart really endured futility, batting .133 with zero homers vs. lefty pitchers; compared to .247 against righties. He dropped batting right-handed over the season’s final month and will spend the offseason contemplating making the change permanent.
“I’ve thought about it for a long time, and it’s not been just this year,” Barnhart said of going exclusively as a lefty hitter.
Although he throws right-handed, Barnhart’s natural swing is from the left side.
On Aug. 4 vs. the Braves, and amid catching 20 innings in two games, Barnhart hit the game-winning three-run home run in the top of the 10th inning for a 6-4 victory that gave Cincinnati a split of a four-game series. (M Sheldon - MLB.com - Oct 25, 2019)
Barnhart has been able to lean into his other life’s passion—cooking. The fan of fine dining occasionally posts his dishes on Instagram.
“Food is my getaway. Whenever I’m stressed or whenever I’m just trying to kill some time, I am likely in the kitchen trying to do something,” Barnhart said. “A lot of times, I’ll find a recipe maybe on the Food Network In the Kitchen app, or in a cook book. Then I’ll omit something or add something that maybe I like or maybe I think could do the recipe good. I made a red wine reduction that was absolutely awful, so I won’t be doing that again.”
As much of the country is unable to dine out during the coronavirus pandemic that has forced many restaurants to either close or struggle with carry-out service only, Tucker and his family wanted to help give his local businesses a little boost.
Barnhart and his wife, Sierra, tweeted on March 19, 2020, that they purchased a pair of $500 gift cards for two restaurants in the Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville, Indiana. The idea is to promote eating at local businesses in what they’re calling Takeout Thursday. They hope to make it a weekly event.
“In hopes to give back and help through this trying time in our country, my family felt like providing families with meals tonight is a great place to start,” Barnhart wrote. “Obviously, throughout the country and world, small businesses run the risk of struggling to make ends meet.”
The Barnharts chose Zionsville’s The Friendly Tavern and Amore Pizzeria. At each place, beginning at 5:00 p.m., there will be a $500 gift card at the register for people to buy food, on them. There is a limit of $25 per order so as many people as possible can participate.
“Please tell them that Tucker Barnhart sent you and enjoy a meal on us,” wrote Barnhart, who got the Takeout Thursday idea from former college basketball coach and broadcaster Dan Dakich, who also lives near Indianapolis. Barnhart hopes to identify at least one Cincinnati-area restaurant next week. (Sheldon - mlb.com - 3/19/2020)
July 25-28, 2020: Tucker and his wife, Sierra, welcomed their newborn son, Benson Jude Barnhart, to the family at eight pounds, 13 ounces. Both mother and son were healthy, Barnhart reported on Twitter. The couple also has another young son, Tatum.
2020 Season: The veteran won his second Gold Glove Award last season, becoming just the third catcher in Reds history to win the award multiple times. Johnny Edwards also won twice, and Johnny Bench won 10 Gold Gloves.
He hit only .204 with five homers and 13 RBI in the shortened season.
June 2021: Barnhart has a pregame tradition where he writes his wife and children's names in the dirt behind home plate.
2021 Season: In 2021, he slashed .247/.317/.368 with an OPS of .685 which is awful. He had 7 home runs and 48 RBIs to go with 41 runs scored. He does, however, have two Gold Gloves so you see his worth in that alone. Even when you just watch him play the position, he looks like someone who knows what he’s doing more than his peers. (Vincent Parise - Nov. 2, 2021)
2022 Season: The metrics weren’t kind in 2022 to Barnhart, whom the Tigers acquired from the Reds last winter. He posted -6 Defensive Runs Saved and rated as a negative framer, according to FanGraphs.
That said, Barnhart was working with a less-than-championship-caliber pitching staff in Detroit and has a reputation as one of the game’s better defensive backstops. He has two Gold Gloves on his mantle. (Tim Stebbins • Published November 22, 2022)
Jan 6, 2023: As Tucker Barnhart considered a move to Chicago, the veteran catcher reached out to a friend he knew he could trust. That was left-hander Wade Miley, who went through a tough season last year of battling injuries while trying to help the Cubs’ rotation.
Miley -- a teammate of Barnhart’s for two seasons with the Reds -- raved about how he was treated in his brief time with the North Siders.
“I leaned on Wade Miley a lot,” Barnhart said via Zoom this week. “He told me, he said, ‘You know, me, man. I've been quite a lot of places. And I played on different sides of the country, for winners, for losers.’ And he said, ‘It's hard for me to choose or pick a different organization that's done it better.’”
Miley’s feedback on the way the Cubs operate, the pitchers in the fold and Cubs catcher Yan Gomes helped Barnhart make his decision. The 31-year-old Barnhart also loved to hear from the Cubs about how much they valued run prevention, and he enjoyed the initial conversation with Gomes about their pending partnership behind the plate.
Barnhart, who signed a two-year deal expects to be in a split role with Gomes. They offer Chicago lefty (Barnhart) and righty (Gomes) bats, but both embrace a defense-first mindset with a strong history of controlling the running game.
“I talked with Yan about it,” Barnhart said. “I want our guys on the mound to -- outside of the gear we're wearing or what we look like -- to not know who's back there. I think that's when pitching staffs reach the highest potential, because we're all on the same page. They trust us.”
Barnhart boasts a pair of Gold Glove Awards (2017 and ’20) during his eight-year run with the Reds, but the advanced metrics (minus-eight defensive runs saved and minus-2.3 framing runs) took a hit in ’22 with Detroit. He said he would “be the first one to tell you” he endured a bad year last season, but Barnhart feels poised for a comeback.
“I grew so much in Detroit,” he said. “I think when you're in spots where you have to kind of dig yourself out, you learn the most about yourself. And you learn like how to persevere through those situations.”
And Barnhart is looking forward to putting that to the test at Wrigley Field.
“The stadium just feels alive. It’s hard to put into words, that feeling,” he said. “Playing at Wrigley Field, having that as your home or playing for the Cubs, is kind of like a bucket list thing.” (J Bastian - MLB.com - Jan 6, 2023)
June 2009: The Reds chose Tucker in the 10th round, out of Brownsburg High School in Indiana. Tucker signed, via scout Rick Sellers, for a bonus of $250,000.
Sept 22, 2017: The Reds have parted with a lot of their established talent in recent years as they've tried to add young players and rebuild. They took a step to retain the next generation for the long term by signing Barnhart to a four-year, $16 million contract.
Barnhart's contract includes a $7.5 million club option for 2022 with a $500,000 buyout. (M Sheldon - MLB.com - Sept 22, 2017)
Nov 3, 2021: The Reds traded C Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers for 3B Nick Quintana.
Nov 6, 2022: Tucker chose free agency.
- Dec 22, 2022: the Cubs agreed to a two-year deal with free-agent catcher Tucker Barnhart. The contract is worth $6.5 million guaranteed, and the 2024 season is included via a player option.
|Birth City:||Indianapolis, IN|
|Draft:||Reds #10 - 2009 - Out of high school (IN)|
Barnhart was a switch-hitter with a nice swing from sides. But his offense was so poor from the right side that he decided to hit just lefthanded starting in 2020. He is virtually no help vs. lefty pitching. He makes good contact off righthanders, but still has no power.
Hitting lefthanded, Tucker makes contact for line drives. He has a short lefthanded stroke and endeavors to spray line drives.
From the right side, his swing was a little sweepier, and he made less contact for less power. So now he's a lefty hitter, only.
Barnhart's glove is way ahead of his bat. His defense is what got him to the Majors.
Tucker switched from a 33 1/2-inch, 31-ounce bat to a 33-inch, 30 1/2-ounce bat in the offseason before 2013 and has seen his offensive results increase as his bat decreased.
"I feel like I have a lot more bat control,” Barnhart said. “I feel like I’m able to keep myself fighting off good pitcher’s pitches and get myself to a spot I can hit a mistake that a pitchers make. It’s helped me a ton.”
Barnhart displayed very good plate discipline from both sides of the plate while playing for the Glendale Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League, as he struck out only 7 times in 58 plate appearances and reached base safely in 12 games. Glendale manager Jeff Smith was impressed.
"He puts together some really good at-bats," Smith said. "His lefthanded swing is a nice short stroke to the ball. It gets nice backspin. Righthanded is nice too, the way he can handle pitchers and hit both ways."
Subtly and without much attention, Tucker has given up switch-hitting for the time being with the option of making it a permanent change. Since August 2019, Barnhart has tested out hitting solely left-handed—even against lefty pitchers.
“I’m testing it out, if you want to call it that,” Barnhart said. “I’m trying to see if it’s a possibility moving forward and I’ll go into the 2019 offseason, sit down and think about it again. Then I’ll head into Spring Training 2020 with a clear vision of what I want to do.”
Barnhart, who will turn 29 in January 2020, struggled from both sides of the plate while batting .191 before the All-Star Break. With three games remaining in the 2019 season, he was batting .281 in the second half after returning from missing a month with a right oblique strain.
This season, Barnhart batted .150 as a righty hitter vs. lefties while it was at .251 as a lefty vs. righties. Over his career, he’s batted .259 left-handed vs. righties and .220 as a righty against lefties. He’s not ready to say he’s done forever batting right-handed, but it definitely appeared likely.
“I’ve thought about it for a long time, and it’s not been just this year,” Barnhart said. “I’ve had conversations about it in the Minor Leagues with coaches Freddie Benavides and Delino DeShields when I was in Double-A. I’m naturally a left-handed hitter. When my career is over, said and done, I don’t want to think ‘What if?’ I do feel confident that I would be a better hitter, but it remains to be seen.”
As he heads into this offseason, is the Gold Glove winner concerned batting only left-handed would expose him to becoming more of a platoon player?
“Yes and no,” Barnhart said. “I think it’s already trending in that direction anyway. I just feel like I’m giving myself a better chance, left on left than right on left. I’m tired of going back to the drawing board over and over again and nothing working. I won’t say it’s hurt my left-handed swing, but I don’t think [switch-hitting] has allowed me to reach my full potential left-handed because I still have to work on hitting right-handed and that’s less swings for the left side.” (Sheldon - mlb.com - 9/26/19)
2020 Changes: Barnhart experimented with hitting only left-handed during the final month of the 2019 season; and he decided in the offseason that he was going to drop switch-hitting. So, he is a lefthanded hitter now.
Tucker displays good athleticism. He moves very well behind the plate. His glove is way ahead of his bat, and being an excellent defensive catcher should make him a backup catcher for several years in the Majors.
Barnhart presents a good target for the pitchers and they like to throw to him. They really like that he can block the ball. They are very comfortable throwing their breaking pitches.
Pitchers must be able to trust a catcher's pitch selection and that he will be able to block their pitches in the dirt, and he does both very well.
By 2017, Barnhart had emerged as the game's best defender behind the plate. In 110 games, he led all catchers in assists (89), Defensive Runs Saved (21) and defensive WAR (2.8) by a large margin. He also threw out 32 of 73 runners trying to steal (44%) and posted an amazing .999 fielding pct.
- Barnhart has soft hands and a good arm. He sets up well behind the plate and receives the ball very impressively.
His quick release and fast transfer allows his average arm to play up. He consistently has 1.95-second pop times (glove-to-glove).
THROWING OUT BASE-STEALERS
In 2010, Tucker threw out 51 percent of opposing runners who were trying to steal a base, in the Pioneer League.
In 2011, he threw out 47 percent of base-stealers in the Midwest League.
In 2012, Barnhart caught 38 percent of guys trying to steal a base.
In 2013, Tucker threw out 37 percent of base stealers while allowing just three passed balls in 96 games behind the plate.
In 2014, he threw out 8 of 12 runners that tried to steal on him during his 21 games in the Majors—66 percent. And he threw out 35 percent of base runners trying to steal off him at Louisville (and picked off five more).
In 2015, Barnhart threw out 28 percent (14 of 50) of opposing base runners trying to steal.
In 2016, Tucker nailed 33%, 34 of 102 runners who endeavored a base theft.
In 2017, Barnhart gunned down a NL-leading 44% of guys (32 of 73) who tried to steal.
In 2018, Tucker threw out 24 percent of potential base-stealers—a real drop off from the season before.
In Covid-shortened 2020, Barnhart threw out 36.4 percent of attempted base-thieves.
He is coachable.
In 2011, Barnhart won the Rawlings Gold Glove for minor league catchers with just two errors in 925 chances at Single-A Dayton. Price said the priority for him at catcher is defensive ability. "We know he can receive, throw, block and calls a good game," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "The pitchers enjoy throwing to him. He has something to learn at this level because there is so much more at his disposal as far as game reports and videos. Those are things that will allow him to be more prepared to catch our staff. I think he's ready to do it defensively.
- In 2012, Barnhart won the Gold Glove award for the entire minor leagues. He can receive and throw and block, and he calls a good game.
Tucker is a superior defensive catcher. He is a very hard worker and a great knowledge for the game.
Barnhart calls a good game and pitchers love to throw to him. Experts say Barnhart is a brilliant game-caller. And he is extremely invested in game-calling, going in and looking at video, and establishing a rapport with the pitching staff—not just the starters, but the relievers as well.
Barnhart keeps everything in front of him. He's great at blocking balls. He's an excellent catch-and-throw guy.
In 2017, Barnhart won his first Rawlings Gold Glove. (He beat out an aging Yadi Molina and the great Buster Posey.)
In 2020, Barnhart won his second Gold Glove Award.
Tucker led all Major League catchers with nine Defensive Runs Saved and was fourth in the NL with 5.8 defensive Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. He beat out fellow finalists Willson Contreras of the Cubs and Jacob Stallings of the Pirates.
Tucker did not make an error over 36 games and 272 innings. And he allowed only two passed balls.
Part of what draws Tucker to catching is the mind games he has to play.
"I'm a fan of the intellectual part of baseball," Barnhart said in 2018. "There's a lot of preparation that goes into it. You're like the quarterback of the team, so you've got to be able to analyze situations quickly on the fly. It makes it fun. It's tough, for sure, but it makes it fun. You're in on every single play. That's what's fun about it."
Aug 3, 2020: Tucker came through big time with his arm, throwing out two baserunners trying to advance in key moments of today's game. “There’s a lot of things that Tucker does that don’t get seen, that don’t get noticed,” teammate Joey Votto said. “That’s the case for a lot of players, but there’s a reason that those players have jobs and get paid so well.”
The night didn’t start auspiciously for the Barnhart. Pitcher Sonny Gray threw a pair of wild pitches in the dirt in the second inning, with the second one getting past the catcher and to the backstop. That allowed Oscar Mercado to score and make it a 2-0 game.
“I’m an emotional guy. But there’s nothing that gets to me more than messing up behind the plate,” said Barnhart. “That’s about as frustrated as I can get on a baseball field is when I let something like that happen.”
In the top of the sixth, Francisco Lindor hit a single that snapped Gray’s streak of 12 consecutive retired batters. As Carlos Santana batted, Lindor broke for second base, and Barnhart made a perfect throw for the second out.
Runners were on first and second base for reliever Nate Jones when his slider to José Ramírez was blocked in the dirt by Barnhart. As Greg Allen took third base, the ball kicked off Barnhart’s shoulder, collarbone and jaw, but he recovered it and fired his throw to Freddy Galvis at second base. It nabbed César Hernández for the second out.
“It was just a really tough pitch to block,” Barnhart said. “They don’t usually lend themselves to putting you into a very good throwing position or a position where you can make a throw because you’re in such an awkward spot, or a guy gets such a good jump that there is just no throw to be made. For me, I was able to awkwardly knock it down. I saw the guy at second get a late jump and I was lucky to first of all keep it front, and then secondly that I had a play to make after the fact.”
Reds manager David Bell felt both defensive stops changed the complexion of the game. “Early in the game, he let one slip by. He’s the best we’ve ever seen at blocking balls. He’s human and that happens,” Bell said. “What’s most impressive is how he responded to that. That’s why he’s here. That’s why he’s the player he is.” (Sheldon - mlb.com)
In 2020, Reds catching coach J.R. House worked with Barnhart extensively. House identified weaknesses in Tucker's defensive game and ways to improve them. Barnhart has always been outstanding at blocking pitches, and he adjusted his throwing motion after he subscribed to Driveline's throwing program and threw out 36 runners in 2020.
Barnhart and House also focused on pitch-framing.
"I've always wanted to be a guy who guys like to throw to," he said.
Barnhart's transformation as a catcher, with a focus on pitch framing, changed the way he receives pitches. He used to bring his glove toward his body when he caught a pitch. Now it's in reverse and he pushes his glove further from his boy to earn borderline calls from home-plate umpires. (Mark Schmetzer - Reds Report - Feb., 2021)
- As of August 2021, Reds catchers Tyler Stephenson and Tucker have combined for 1,079 2/3 innings caught without making an error. Barnhart and Stephenson rank first and second, respectively, in the Major Leagues for fielding percentage. (Sheldon - mlb.com - 8/17/2021)
- Tucker is a below-average runner, like most catchers.
- June 28-July 26, 2019: Tucker was on the IL with right oblique strain. (Editor's note: Very short list, especially for a catcher.)