The Lexington Legends signed 1B/DH-L Keon Barnum to an unknown contract
The Lexington Legends spent the past two weeks announcing a slew of signings. Pretty much all of them came and went and didn’t truly register on my radar. Sure, they could turn out great, but none of them were what they unleashed the other day when they signed Keon Barnum. By inking the former American Association Most Valuable Player and Baseball America’s Independent Baseball Player of the Year for 2019 the Legends made a huge splash. It is a splash that should pay off from them in even bigger ways than what can be seen on the surface.
All we have to work with when it comes to Barnum is his career from 2019 and before. He ended up sitting out the 2020 season. He had originally signed with Pericos de Puebla of Mexico’s Liga Mexicana de Béisbol but was released from the contract when he signed a minor-league deal with the Washington Nationals. Then the Coronavirus hit, Barnum found himself released, and without anywhere to play baseball in 2020. Luckily for Barnum 2019 isn’t that long ago and he still has a great pedigree working in his favor.
In 2019 Barnum tore up American Association pitching to the tune of a .311/.395/.635 slash line. He hit a league record 31 home runs and also chipped in 26 doubles in 428 plate appearances. Barnum accomplished his reign of terror by becoming more selective at the plate. He reduced his strikeout numbers compared to his previous affiliated years and increased his walk totals at the same time. He did this by seeing more pitches in every at-bat. He still packed plenty of pop into his long swing, but he was now swinging at his pitch as opposed to whatever looked good. All year long Barnum used this approach to punish opposing pitchers and he never really let up.
Barnum then picked up with Liga Mexicana del Pacífico’s Mayos de Navojoa for the 2019-2020 season. He wasn’t as dominant during his time in Mexico, but his .253/.324/.407 slash line in a very pitcher-friendly and power-hitter-hating league showed how well his change in approach had stuck. He also jumped up in talent in LMP and still produced at a high level. It speaks to the improvements Barnum made as a hitter in 2019 that he was able to jump up a level and still produce at a rate that kept him in the lineup consistently. (For comparison’s sake, Barnum’s fellow teammate on the Mayos was briefly Telvin Nash. I say briefly because the 2019 Atlantic League Player of the Year struggled so mightily with the jump in talent level that he was released after just 11 games.)
What does all this mean for the Legends? It means that they are getting the player who should be the cornerstone of their offense. The former first-round pick of the Major League Baseball Amateur Player Draft has been great at varying times in his career. Specifically, if the changes he made in 2019 carry over to 2021 then the Legends won’t just have the cornerstone of their offense but an Atlantic League Player of the Year contender. He doesn’t bring with him much positional flexibility, but he is an adequate fielding first baseman whose big bat more than makes up for him not being great at that position.
In short, the Legends have found their man. Barnum has all the makings of being a great signing for the first-year Atlantic League club. He’s the sort of player who can help them win right now while also allowing the team to attract other big names in the years to come. The Florida native is also a great addition to the league as a whole, bringing a wealth of experience and an ability to make a big impact right away that is hard to come by in the unaffiliated world. The Legends have gone big with the signing of Barnum and he’s going to repay them by going deep for them plenty of times and maybe even bringing Player of the Year honors to Lexington.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Chicago Dogs