There has been a lot of talk of Sam Fuld around the internet, and this very site being that spark plug to give some energy to his team. I’ve followed Fuld since he was up and down as a Cubs, who was a “throw in” player in the Matt Garza deal. I’m very happy to see him getting success at the big league level.
There was a pretty significant development in the Chicago Cubs roster at the end of spring training that is paying off with large dividends for the inconsistent North Siders. It was widely expected that Blake DeWitt would win the 2nd base position outright, leaving Jeff Baker the LHP hitting specialist on the team and fill in at 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Darwin Barney was expected to backup at 2nd and SS; however, with a strong spring by Barney, and DeWitt having a weak spring, Barney won the starting job opening day.
Starlin Castro was the obviously more highly regarded shortstop in the Cubs organization, but Barney is no slouch either. He was a two time NCAA national champion for the Oregon State Beavers in 2006 and 2007. In 2007 he was named to the all tournament team. He was also a part of the 2006 Team USA gold medal team at the World University Games.
He was a late season call-up last season and did decently well. He’s not going to win games with his bat, only ten home runs in 1546 ABs in the Minor Leagues spanning over four seasons. What he will do for you is play the game extremely hard, run the base paths well and play the field above average. He’s settled in as a full time 2nd basemen when a large majority of his innings were at short in the minors. He’s looking more like a natural 2B on a daily basis.
While he is no Castro on the field in regards to the highlight reel plays he’ll make throughout this season, he will also not be like Castro and not make near as many as errors either. He’s a solid, consistent defender. His stats in the minors might not indicate that, but playing at 2nd, a position he’s better suited for, will show off how good of a defensive player he’s going to be.
Against the Rockies this weekend, he and Casey Coleman teamed up to make a great play where Barney made a diving stop and tossed to Coleman who was heading over to cover the bag. [mlb.com video]
As I mentioned earlier, he’s not going to carry a team with his bat, but he’s a good contact hitter, who almost walks as much as he strikes out. Prior to Tuesday’s game he’s walked 4 times and struck out only 3 times. Since the time that Castro and Barney have batted 1-2 in the lineup, they’ve been getting on base on a pretty consistent basis. Castro is battling well over .500 since being moved to lead off, and Barney is still batting .311 currently and has an OBP of .360. That’s giving the hitters behind the duo plenty of chances to drive them in.
There were two very specific instances where his hustle got him more than what the regular player would have. First, Saturday night’s game, late in the game, he hit a bloop into “no man’s land” in left-centerfield and was running hard out of the box. When Dexter Fowler couldn’t corral the ball as he came up to it, Barney scooted into 2nd after rounding first base hard. The following day, he scored on a potential double play ball after an errant throw clipped off the top of Todd Helton’s glove [mlb.com video].
I’m pretty sure there’s a little bit of Marlon Byrd’s hustle instilled in Barney. I was watching a video earlier in the spring where they were talking to Marlon Byrd about Brett Jackson, and how teaching him to play the game the right way. He wants Jackson to stay with the big league team after he is first called up. He said he expects Jackson to take over at CF, moving himself to RF. I see a lot of “Johnny Hustle” similarities in Barney. I think he’s established himself being a core part of the young Cubs movement heading into the coming seasons along with Castro, Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner.
I also remember seeing a video before spring training started, where a reporter was interviewing Barney about the MLB academy he went to in the off season to prepare himself as a MLB ball player both in the regards as a player and as person. He also was a member of “Camp Colvin” this winter. A rigorous, alternative offseason strength program ran by Colvin for players to get in shape for the season where Barney put 19 lbs onto his small frame. Barney is well on his way to becoming a fan favorite, much like former Cub, Ryan Theriot, but he’s a much better ball player.