(Photo via YouTube, seen here)
Matthew Barefoot is used to you not knowing his name.
Three years ago, he had only one offer to be a DI hitter. Now, he’s leading the Cape League with a .396 average, and hitting fourth and playing left field in the All-Star game.
Barefoot’s story is unique in a variety of ways. Generally, college hitters watch their stats drop on the Cape for a few notable reasons. They’re using wood bats, the pitchers are extremely talented, and there are numerous spacious ballparks. Barefoot hit .364 at school and .396 this summer, despite never swinging a wood bat before.
“It’s definitely an adjustment, but for the most part in the last five weeks of school ball I got really hot,” Barefoot said. “I kind of figured out the approach I needed to use. I just brought that same thing in this summer and it worked.”
“Really hot” might even be an understatement when describing Barefoot’s last five weeks. In May and June, Barefoot hit safely in 18 of 19 games, and hit .449 with five home runs.
Another major difference between the Cape League and collegiate ball is the scouting reports and preparation, or lack thereof. In college ball, teams play the same team for a three or four game series each weekend. In preparation, they’ll watch film and go over scouting reports of the notable pitchers on the opposing teams.
On the Cape, it’s much more about on-the-fly adjustments—an area in which Barefoot thrives.
“In the first inning, I like to see what he tends to throw in certain counts,” Barefoot said. “And I just try to sit on the pitch I believe he’s gonna throw. It’s just like any other pitcher. Just making sure that he throws a ball that I can hit in my zone, and just trying to be able to recognize the pitch.”
“In the regular season we have scouting reports, and stuff like that,” Barefoot continues. “Like if he’s a big slider guy, we’ll know that. But here, we’ve faced a few slider guys and that’s something we just have to make an adjustment in game.”
Barefoot is from Dunn, North Carolina, a small town in the middle of the state. He stayed near home and enrolled at Campbell University in the fall of 2015 on a baseball scholarship. But here’s the catch: nearly every school that was looking at Barefoot wanted him as a pitcher.
“Campbell was the only school that gave me the opportunity to hit, and they still really wanted me to pitch when I got recruited,” Barefoot said. “[Being able to hit] was the deciding factor. When they told me that they would give me the opportunity to hit, I was all over that. That was the school I wanted to go to.”
And that was the plan. Barefoot was supposed to be a two-way player in his freshman year, but ankle surgery forced him to miss the entire season, and he redshirted.
“The redshirt year was honestly just a great year to be able to mature as a person and as a player,” Barefoot said. “Being able to see guys compete at the college level, and how it works, and the grind of it all. I think it mentally got me really prepared. That year I got in the weight room and got a lot stronger. And I just developed as a hitter. It seems to be working out just fine.”
In 2017, Barefoot still was not completely healthy, limiting him to just hitting duties. That seemed to work out pretty well for Campbell.
He hit .335 with eight home runs and was named a Freshman All-American. Then in 2018 he was back to business, hitting .364 with eight home runs and 33 steals. He led the conference in batting average, on-base percentage and steals, and was 2nd in slugging percentage and runs scored.
Barefoot went undrafted as a draft-eligible sophomore this summer. “I got calls this year around the 11th round, but the money wasn’t there that I wanted, so I decided to come here and expose myself more,” Barefoot said.
That’s one of the main goals of the Cape League—to provide exposure for players against top competition, especially those like Barefoot from smaller schools.
“Now it’s just about staying mentally tough,” Barefoot said. “Playing all spring and all summer is long, and draining, but if I can stay mentally locked in going into next year, I’ll be good to go.”