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The majors or Arizona State? Hunter Barnhart faces uncertain, yet exciting, future amid coronavirus pandemic
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The majors or Arizona State? Hunter Barnhart faces uncertain, yet exciting, future amid coronavirus pandemic

From the Lompoc news you may have missed this week series

Hunter Barnhart went from pitching in front of dozens of major league scouts to throwing nearly alone at a baseball field close to his home in Paso Robles.

Such is life as a high school baseball player in the days of COVID-19.

Barnhart, obviously, is not a run-of-the-mill player.

The St. Joseph senior is a highly-touted pitching prospect less than a month away from possibly turning pro.

The right-hander, who has also signed with Arizona State, may hear his name called during next month's Major League Baseball Draft, though in times of so much uncertainty, Barnhart doesn't quite know what to expect over the next four weeks. 

The draft is typically 40 rounds, but has been trimmed down to just five rounds amid the global pandemic. MLB teams will be allowed to sign undrafted free agents for $20,000. If selected by an MLB team during the draft, Barnhart could sign with that club or, if a deal is not reached, choose to play for Arizona State.

Barnhart was in the midst of his senior season when play was suspended on March 13. Since then, Barnhart has been training on his own, unsure if he'll be pitching with the Sun Devils or in rookie ball once play resumes.

"Every day I run in the morning for probably 30 minutes, I work out six days a week," Barnhart said Thursday. "A lot of lower body and core workouts. I'm doing my throwing program for baseball so I throw six days a week also."

Scouts filled the backstop bleachers at all of Barnhart's pitching performances during this truncated spring season. Barnhart had 18 strikeouts in 11 innings with a 0.64 ERA this year, making a pair of starts.

Now Barnhart throws with Seth Maldonado, an old teammate from Paso Robles High. 

"I was frustrated at the beginning due to not being able to play, but the situation that is going on in the world is more important than my senior year of baseball or high school," Barnhart said.

The Knights were 3-3 on the season when play was suspended and ultimately canceled. 

"I think that our team had a lot of potential of being very good," Barnhart said of the Knights. "One match-up I was looking forward to was the game against Paso. Playing against my friends and old teammates would have been a good experience as a senior."

Barnhart transferred to St. Joseph from Paso Robles before his junior baseball season. He went on to play football for the Knights last fall and led them to a Mountain League championship and a berth in the semifinals of the CIF Central Section Division 2 playoffs. Barnhart, a quarterback, was named the Times' All-Area MVP during the football season. 

Barnhart hasn't completely put down the football just yet.

"Me and Seth go throw with the quarterback coach once a week," Barnhart said. Maldonado was a standout receiver at Paso Robles. 

But, of course, Barnhart is fully focused on baseball and the upcoming draft, though he's keeping his expectations down as it approaches. 

"I have been in contact with teams and I don't expect anything, but I hope to be lucky enough to be selected," Barnhart said. "I think that it's going to be a very interesting draft and very unique."

Barnhart had been an intriguing prospect for years, but his stock has taken off over the last 12 months after his velocity spiked.

At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Barnhart's fastball can touch 96 mph at times, though it typically sits between 91-94. He throws a plus-curveball that projects to be a major league out pitch. He has the makeup of a starter. 

"The one who taught me the (curveball) grip was me and my father played around with it and we just tried different grips until we found one that worked for me," Barnhart said. "I've only been throwing a curveball since I was 16. It's a pitch I'm very confident in."

If Barnhart doesn't get drafted or sign with a major league club, he'll be content playing at Arizona State, assuming baseball resumes by the spring of 2021.

"ASU was my favorite college since I was little," he said. "Also, Arizona is my favorite place to live at. Arizona State's program is the best."

Central Coast Classic Series: We look back at some the biggest games in the area's history

With a little extra time on our hands, we are taking a look into the past of prep sports on the Central Coast. Our sports staff has been going through our archives searching for photos and stories highlighting some of the most pivotal games area teams have played over the last two decades.

You can support the hard work of our local sports team by signing up for a News+ Membership

Senior Spotlight Series: Celebrating the area's top senior student-athletes

Our 'Senior Spotlight' series is aimed at highlighting senior student-athletes who have had their final year of high school disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. The athletes featured here were their school's nominee for Athlete of the Year or Student Athlete of the Year for the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table's end-of-year banquet that has been canceled due to the outbreak.

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