Based on Spring performances as well as non-performance-related factors (options remaining, organizational development issues, etc.), Darwin Barney is the current favorite to land the last infield roster spot, and Reed Johnson is the favorite to nab the fifth outfielder spot. And, if you’re looking for additional roster tea leaves to read, you might take note that Darwin Barney and Reed Johnson are both working hard at learning the Rudy Jaramillo approach to hitting.
“I call [Jaramillo] a sensei,” said Barney, using a Japanese term of respect for a skilled teacher or mentor. “If something feels wrong, he says one or two things and puts you right back on track. He just sees things that a lot of guys don’t see, and we’re lucky to have him around.”
Barney, who has played in only 30 big league games, and Johnson, who has played in 886, have become Jaramillo devotees at different times in their careers, one of them trying to start a career and the other trying to hang on.
“I know the success he’s had with a lot of players over their careers,” Johnson said, “guys that he’s turned around. I’ve really bought into his philosophy of hitting and staying square and being ready to hit early.”
Barney’s .371 spring average suggests he has found the conversion easier than Johnson (.206), who knows his fifth-outfielder job is not yet secure.
“When you make those mechanical adjustments, you’re going to go backward at first,” Johnson said. “The first week or so you’re thinking about mechanics rather than your approach. I knew that was the sacrifice I would have to make if I was going to buy into the whole thing.
“Now it’s to the point where I can worry about the approach and I’m more comfortable and things are starting to become habit. I guess it’s more how you finish than how you start.” Chicago Tribune.
Based on Johnson’s description, it’s possible that his early-Spring struggles were all adjustment-related (which is, admittedly, very convenient for him). Still, because Fernando Perez – Johnson’s primary competitor for the fifth outfielder job – can be optioned to AAA Iowa if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster, whereas the Cubs risk losing Johnson altogether if he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training, you’ve got to believe that Johnson was always the favorite to win the job. If Johnson struggles, the Cubs can always cut bait, and call up Perez.
As for Barney, he’s simply won his roster spot with a great Spring. He can back up everywhere – including the corner outfield spots – and he’s hitting very well right now. He’s even entered the conversation for the starting job at second base.