|Albertus Barber, image- MiLB.com|
Since beginning his professional career, the Oklahoma Baptist product has played at three levels in the minors, tallying a remarkable 1.23 ERA with a 3-0 record and a save through 12 appearances.
Last week I talked with the 23-year-old about his path to the Phillies, working with Class A Lakewood pitching coach Matt Hockenberry, the culture within the organization, his history with the Driveline training facility, a popular New Jersey food item and plenty more. Read ahead for that complete interview.
-Your name is pretty unique. Do you have a nickname that you go by more commonly, or no?
A lot of people call me Berty.
-Oh, I heard someone say that earlier and it didn't even click for me.
Yeah, a lot of people call me Berty, Bertus, Albert, Albertus, Barber. It's just whatever works for you honestly.
-Alright. Cool, man. When I glance at you on the roster, I see you listed as a non-drafted free agent signing. There's not a lot of those around, for the American guys. How does that go down? How do you land with the Phillies?
Yeah, so in November the Phillies came and watched me and it was my first time throwing in front of a pro team since I had fractured my arm. They came and watched me-- and it was funny because I was throwing up on the mound when they were watching me because I had pneumonia. But they came and watched me and they wanted to sign me. And they called me and they were like, "Hey. What do you want money wise?" And I told them, "I don't care. Just let me play." And they were like, "Alright. We're gonna see if we can put something together for you." And I was like, "Okay. Sweet." And they called me back two days later and they were like, "Hey. Because you were taking online classes this fall, you're going to have to appeal to the MLB commissioner to become free agent eligible." I ended up sending three requests to the MLB commissioner and they never got back to me. And that was fine because it ended up working better for me. And (the Phillies) ended up calling me on the third day of the draft, it was like in the 35th round. The phone rang and I picked it up so fast that I don't even think it rang. I pick up the phone instantly and he's like, "Hey, um, you still good with a thousand bucks and a Snickers bar?" And I was like, "You can keep the Snickers bar (but) yeah!" And they signed me about an hour after the draft and I was sitting there freaking out. I wasn't supposed to tell anyone. That was basically it, man.
-You look really happy talking about it, so I imagine you still felt like you had gotten drafted and celebrated accordingly.
Yeah, but I wasn't supposed to tell anybody until the pen was on the paper. So, I'm freaking out and I have no idea what to do because this has been years in the making for me. This is all I ever wanted to do, right? This is my life! And I just remember calling my mom and dad and they were sad. They didn't see my name come up in the draft. Freaking out like I was freaking out. Those three days were miserable. I watched every single pick. No lie! And, so, I call 'em and I told them, "I just want to let you guys know I just got offered a free agent contract from the Phillies." And I couldn't tell anyone else for about two weeks.
-How soon did you get to go down to Florida to start showing your stuff in front of the Phillies and becoming a Phillie yourself?
So, I threw in front of them in the pre-draft and I asked them specifically, "Hey, can you guys get me out of here as fast as possible, after we decide to-- because I need to go compete. I'm losing my mind." So, the draft ended I think on a Thursday and I flew out on a Saturday. And that was awesome. And then about a week and a half later we started throwing live to people and now I'm here.
-What has it been like for you joining the Phillies organization and making your way as a new guy?
The Phillies is a very well run organization. Not a lot of people have any idea how in this organization specifically how well it is run. I'm from Driveline, so I hear horror stories from other organizations all the time. And then you look at the Phillies, we get sleeper buses, we get three meals a day, we get put in houses, we get hotels, like they take care of us. And then not only that, but we have a really good coaching staff and then we have (Josh) Bonifay, who's really big on culture. And I'm a firm believer that culture is a massive part of everything and it's hard to establish, right? Everyone's doing a really good job. Everyone's establishing the culture. We all get along really well. I've never seen differences. We all just have the same thing in common. It's easy for me because everyone's on the same page. Everyone's always happy. A lot of our guys always bring their best attitudes, so for me to adapt here, it was the same thing at a new level.
-So, I've got a question for you that's a little less than serious, but you mentioned signing for a thousand bucks. There's guys on this team that are high round picks, that got pretty big signing bonuses. Do you ever go out for pizza or coffee or whatever with the guys and say, "Your signing bonus is way bigger than mine. You pick this up"?
(Laughs) No, man. It's funny 'cause I'm always the one-- you can ask around the club house, I'm always like, "Yeah, guys. I got some fat stacks!" And they're like, "What?" And I'm like, "Boys, I've got some fat stacks in my bank account." 'Cause I save all my money. But even though they have way more than me they'll always be joking around and they'll be like, "It's on Barber. He's the one with the fat stacks!"
-Excellent. Since joining the club here, what feedback are you getting (Matt) Hockenberry and the coaching staff here?
Hockenberry, I love Hockenberry.
Yeah. He lets me be myself. (Manager Mike Micucci) lets me be myself. They embrace culture. Hockenberry and me-- 'cause I come from the analytical side, Hockenberry's been with the Phillies for a while, so Hockenberry knows everything on the Phillies' side. Which I'm not familiar with 'cause I didn't play in the organization. So, while we're merging the two, it's good for me because Hock's also merging the two. So, I can give him feedback and he gives me feedback. And obviously, he's been in the game longer than me, so he's got a lot more feedback for me. But I can also interpret my body to him, and then we can work together.
I mean we worked on one thing about two and a half weeks ago and my average velocity was around 91.5 and me and Hock went over a lot of video. A lot of video. And we re-patterned some of my mechanics for about two weeks and I went from topping out at like 93 to I topped 95 last week. And I mean I credit that to Hock because really get to work together. We're synergistic. It's a really cool thing.
-I've heard of Driveline before. I don't know much about it. What can you tell me about it?
Aw, man. The only thing I can tell you about Driveline is go there. That's it. I mean the culture's amazing. It's one of those cultures that like if you (hit) 97 and then you throw the next one at 96.8, then we're going to boo you. It's just one those things. We're all family. We all love each other. We all get after it every day. And for the most part the people there are people that sacrifice everything that they had to go to that place. And then it's run by Kyle Boddy and a lot of other people. But, without Kyle Boddy's sacrifices, it would have never been a thing. So, to see how that's exponentially grown, from 2016 till now, because I've been doing it for that long, is just incredible. The only thing I can say is go there, check it out. What do you have to lose?
-Perfect. What did you know about the Phillies before the Phillies expressed an interest in you?
Honestly, absolutely nothing. I didn't know anything. I knew that (Jason) Ochart was working here. That's always a really good sign because if a team is on board with analytics, that means they're able to set their ego aside to be able to successfully progress through baseball. According to whatever's new.
-We're here in the hall way outside the locker room and here there's all these framed pictures of players that have come from this level and reached the big leagues. Is seeing this stuff inspiring to you?
It's certainly cool. You see it and you just know a lot of great people have passed through here. It's one those things where it puts it in your head, "It's time to go. It's time to put up or shut up."
-You and I met a little while ago and off the record we were talking about food a little bit. Being new to New Jersey, what were your early impressions of pork roll?
Gross! I would say, "gross" and "no, thank you!"
-Have you tried it yet?
No, not yet.
-Ohh. I think I was presuming that you ended up sampling it. You gotta have a sandwich-- obviously, you know of the pork roll, egg and cheese, which is the combo sandwich, because they have the mascots out here at FirstEnergy Park and you have the mascot race out here. But, it still strikes you as odd?
Yeah. I don't know why. But, I don't hear that in Oklahoma.
-You like bacon, though, right?
Yeah, I love bacon.
-It's similar. It's doesn't get as crispy. But, you know, it's similar flavor, you know...salty pork product.
I'll have to try it.
-You mentioned being from Oklahoma. What's the delicacy of choice out there?
I would say Oklahoma is probably (known for) steak. Just meat and taters out there, man.