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Friday, September 24, 2021

Meet Hunter Barco: Former MLB recruit, now a UF pitcher

<p>Hunter Barco, a 19-year-old UF business administration freshman, pitches in an exhibition game against Georgia. He threw one inning and struck out three batters against the Bulldogs.</p>

Hunter Barco, a 19-year-old UF business administration freshman, pitches in an exhibition game against Georgia. He threw one inning and struck out three batters against the Bulldogs.

As people around the world cross out May 31 on their calendars, young baseball players cross their fingers. The month draws the men to the edge of their seats and glues phones to their hands as they anxiously await a call that could change their life forever — the call from Major League Baseball teams drafting the newest dynasty of young baseball stars.

Hunter Barco, a 19-year-old UF business administration freshman, was set to become one of those stars. He had finally ended the chase and caught up to his 8-year-old self’s dream when he was chosen in the Major League Baseball draft.

He turned the offer down.

Barco had always wanted to be a professional baseball player. Since the beginning of high school, he saw college as a backup plan. He dreamed of hearing his name called in the first round of the draft to join the select group of baseball players who go professional straight out of high school.

Like most other baseball players, Barco started young: first in T-ball, then moving on to the challenge of hitting a moving target. However, it was not until his summer going into freshman year at The Bolles School in Jacksonville that he realized he was good at the sport. 

Really good.

He committed to the University of Virginia when he was 14. As time went by, his love for warm weather grew and he decided Virginia was not in his preferred latitude.

The Summer going into his senior year of high school, he decided that UF, located just over an hour away from his hometown of Jacksonville, was the place for him — if he did not go to the MLB.

As a prerequisite for going into the draft, Barco had to get an MRI to ensure all ligaments and muscles were working smoothly. Upon examination of the results, the radiologist pronounced his teres minor — a muscle in the shoulder — completely torn. The reading caught Barco off guard, as he had only been feeling slight soreness in his shoulder.

After that, Barco shut down. He was convinced the tear meant he needed to take some time off to allow his shoulder to heal. Press immediately caught wind of the injury and broke the news to the public. The No. 1 left-handed pitcher of the 2019 class was hurt. 

It was not until Barco received a second opinion on the MRI that he discovered his teres minor was, in fact, not torn. However, the damage had already been done. The press knew about the injury, and those in the baseball world were predicting a drop in his draft stock, where analysts believe players will end up in the draft.

Barco was always seen as a back-of-the-first-round player by those in the baseball industry.

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They were right.

In a phone call he received in June, the Milwaukee Brewers drafted Barco, offering him a multi-million dollar signing bonus to join their team. However, the large sum of money thrown at Barco wasn’t enough to convince him to forgo four years at UF.

The minimum amount of money he would accept to sign with the team was $3 million.  Barco said this price was a sum of all the grueling practices and long hours he spent pushing to get just a little bit better.

When the offer fell short, he was missing out on more than just money; he was missing out on acknowledgment of his long-time dedication to improvement. Not to mention the $3 million had to carry him through seven seasons as a minor league player — a time where his salary would be little more than scraps.

“After that, I told my agent to take me out of the draft. I said, ‘No one is going to pay $3 million at this point. I’m just going to go to school,’” said Barco.

Disappointment struck but was quickly washed away when a wave of excitement for his newfound college years settled in.

Barco hopes to make it to the College World Series three times in his career as a pitcher at Florida. He believes the team will make it further than it did last year, as the young team has more experience this year coupled with a new freshman class.

Junior pitcher Tommy Mace also anticipates more success for the Gators this year partly due to the arrival of such a strong freshman class.

“Hunter’s arrival to the team will definitely up the competition for the mound,” he said. “There are so many great pitchers in the freshman class that competition is tight and everyone’s fighting to try to earn a spot.”

Barco’s dreams of becoming a professional baseball player have not disappeared. He is currently studying business administration but has his mind set on playing baseball for as long as time will permit.

As for his shoulder injury, he has completely recovered and has been going strong since arriving at Florida. Barco is attacking the 2020 season head-on and is nothing but ecstatic for the first spring season of his collegiate career.

Hunter Barco, a 19-year-old UF business administration freshman, pitches in an exhibition game against Georgia. He threw one inning and struck out three batters against the Bulldogs.

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