When it comes to Darwin Barney, I’ve been saying two things for months: (1) I hate dumping on the guy because I like his baseball acumen and effort, and (2) he’s not a Major League starter.
Darwin Barney rocketed to presumed stardom in the annals of Cubs’ lore with a good Spring Training, and a solid April (.326/.351/.449). He had a great attitude, hustled, and was the opposite of what many Cubs fans had come to hate in players they perceived to be lazy or uncaring. Barney, everyone said, was the “future” at second base. It’s a label and reputation that has stuck for months, regardless of the merit.
Since May 2 – that’s 107 of his 133 games – Barney is hitting an unbearable .263/.300/.327. Worse, his defense has slipped. Amidst a smattering of occasional sparkling plays, Barney has made 12 errors, good for fourth most in all of baseball.
It’s not as if the Cubs have no other second basemen on the roster. Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt, who will both presumably return in 2012, can each play second; and then there is prospect DJ LeMahieu. The just-turned-23-year-old LeMahieu has played a bit of third base in the minors this year, but, coming up, he’s been a second baseman for most of his career.
And, yet, Barney, who turns 26 in less than two months, starts almost every day.
You’ll recall, the Cubs already jerked LeMahieu around once earlier this season, calling him up from AA to the big club in the midst of his hottest streak of the year, only to deposit him on the bench. And now it looks like they’re jerking him around again by allowing Mike Quade never to give the young man a start at second base in an otherwise meaningless September. It’s worth pointing out that LeMahieu – as a much younger player than Barney – is a career .317/.353/.399 hitter in the minor leagues. Barney was at just .287/.335/.376.
Taken together with Barney’s ineffectiveness this year, I’ve concluded that LeMahieu should be getting a look at second base now, and, if there is a presumptive favorite at the position for 2012, it should be LeMahieu, not Barney.
And it sounds like ESPNChicago’s Sahadev Sharma – and “most scouts” – agree.
Barney has performed admirably this season and when it comes to a player’s makeup, there are few who can top Barney. While many scouts believe he has a long future in the big leagues, most tend to agree that it’s in a utility role.
“The upside for Lemahieu is quite a bit higher than Barney,” said one NL scout. “I think the chances of the power showing up on him are good enough that you do give him the chance to beat Barney out when Lemahieu is deemed ready.”
The reasons for giving LeMahieu that chance are many.
At 23, LeMahieu is two and half years younger than Barney, and it’s possible that he could develop the power he lacks as he continues to fill out his 6-foot-4 frame. While he has yet to display game power (he does show some pop in batting practice), scouts often say that power is the last tool to show up for young players ….
“Power is something that you can’t (force), you can’t try to hit homers otherwise you’re going to get worse,” LeMahieu said. “Just with strength and experience I think it will come. What all the older guys have always preached to me is to not try to do too much, just keep hitting the ball the other way and the power will come. And it already has a little bit this year.”
LeMahieu’s slugging percentage has ticked up over his past few seasons in the minors. After slugging .384 and .386 in 2009 and 2010 respectively, that number jumped to .423 in 2011. He may never develop the power of a slugging corner infielder, but it’s possible he’ll develop enough to be an intriguing option to replace Barney.
LeMahieu is known to be rather athletic and his defense has improved significantly at second over the years. It’s that defense that LeMahieu really prides himself in. Although he’s comfortable at both third and second, it’s obvious that he has the most value at second base.
Outside of reducing the tape the next regime might have available to study, the fact that LeMahieu is sitting on the bench while Barney plays almost every day is probably not going to hurt his chances of winning the second base job next year. The decision makers for 2012 are not yet a part of the Cubs’ organization, and, when they are, they’ll have a season’s worth of reasons to give someone other than Darwin Barney a chance to win the starting second base job.
That competition could be an interesting one, with Barney, LeMahieu, Blake DeWitt, and Ryan Flaherty all possibly in the fold. If the Cubs don’t bring back Aramis Ramirez, much of that group could also be competing at third base.