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Hunter Barnhart signs with Tampa Bay Rays
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Hunter Barnhart signs with Tampa Bay Rays

Hunter Barnhart, the Paso Robles native who spent the past two seasons at St. Joseph High School, made his decision final Friday.

Barnhart was selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball Draft earlier this month. The Tampa Bay Rays selected the right-handed pitcher with the 96th overall pick on June 11. 

However, Barnhart had previously signed to pitch for Arizona State, leaving the recent high school graduate facing a monumental decision to make, with the options being going pro or signing with ASU. 

Barnhart is going pro. The flamethrower signed with the Rays on Friday in Tampa Bay, solidifying his baseball future. 

Barnhart, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound 18-year-old with a fastball that can touch 96 mph and a curveball that has left scouts impressed, signed right around his slot value, according to MLB.com. The 96th overall pick was allotted a value of $604,080 and Barnhart signed for $585,000.

Barnhart, who turned 18 on Feb. 14, spent his first two-plus years of high school at Paso Robles. He played football, as a quarterback, and baseball there. He then transferred to St. Joseph for his junior season of baseball in the spring of 2019. Barnhart had a solid season with the Knights then and played football for St. Joseph in the fall of 2019, leading that team to a Mountain League championship and a berth in the CIF Central Section Division 2 semifinals. 

Before the draft, Barnhart wasn't quite sure what to expect as the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertain 2020 MLB season had thrown everything upside down. The draft was cut from 40 rounds to five rounds as a cost-cutting measure for Major League Baseball. 

"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 before the draft last month. "I think that it's going to be a very interesting draft and very unique."

Barnhart, in fact, was selected. 

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

The Knights were 3-3 when play was suspended and ultimately canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Barnhart was named the Times' All-Area MVP for the football season, but it appears his football days are behind him.

Barnhart was the second St. Joseph baseball player to be drafted out of high school, joining Bill Simas (1990). Dustin Kelly was drafted out of Cuesta College by the Red Sox in the 15th round in 2004. Former Knight Doug Bernier made the majors after being undrafted.

Other recent Central Coast pitchers selected out of high school include Righetti grad Matt Sauer, who was drafted in the second round by the New York Yankees in 2017, and Nipomo High grad Ryan McNeil who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the third round in 2012.

Sauer was selected 54th overall. He underwent Tommy John surgery last year.

Cabrillo's Danny Duffy, a left-handed pitcher, was drafted directly out of high school by the Kansas City Royals in 2007's third round. John Thomas, another lefty, was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the second round out of Righetti High in 1999.

Duffy won a World Series with the Royals in 2015. 

Jeff McNeil, a Nipomo High grad and the brother of Ryan McNeil, was drafted in the 12th round in 2013 out of Long Beach State and is currently at the big league level with the New York Mets. 

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