DJ LeMahieu Should Be Getting Starts Over Darwin Barney

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.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

31 responses to “DJ LeMahieu Should Be Getting Starts Over Darwin Barney”

  1. Luke

    I’d be perfectly content with LeMahieu at second and Flaherty at third in 2012. Flaherty shows more patience, swings from the left side, and has more power. LeMahieu looks to hit for a higher average, and even if he never develops more than 10-15 HR power he will drive in a fair amount of runs with doubles in the gaps. On a good team those two could bat sixth and seventh for a decade. On the Cubs next year, they could bat much higher.

    1. JulioZuleta

      I don’t mind giving DJ a chance, but Flaherty is a utility player all the way. He doesn’t even have the bat to stick at 2B in my opinion, let alone a power position.

      1. Luke

        I think Flaherty’s bat will be fine against right handed pitching, meaning he could pick up 100+ starts between second, third, and left. I’d rather he get most or all of those starts at third, leaving second for LeMahieu and left for LaHair (unless he’s on first). It can be tough to tell what a young player can do when he’s bounced around the diamond and constantly in and out of the line up. Long term he is a utility guy. I’d put his ceiling as roughly a Mark DeRosa type – best off the bench and easily able to fill a starting roll for a day or a season if necessary – but for 2012 I’d like to see what Flaherty and LeMahieu can do.

        And I don’t mean the Quade-style of pinch running twice a week and maybe getting into the on-deck circle once a month method of seeing what they can do.

  2. pfk

    I totally agree with your thinking. Barney is indeed a great tool to have – on the bench. Baker and DeWitt – same thing, on the bench. If we are to compete, you need good talent off the bench. And, if we are to compete, we need good starting talent, not a bench player starting.

  3. Wilbur

    Really agree with pfk’s comment

  4. cubs

    Mr Ricketts PLEASE PLEASE Tell Quade to PLAY the youngsters for the rest (whats left)
    of the year !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SIT Sorri,Ram,Pena,Byrd—- PLAY Colvin,LeMahieu,LaHair,Wellington Casstillo,Tony C, etc etc

  5. youguysarecrazyyy

    I disagree with evryone. i DON’T see lemahieu as being a sold player, the few at bats i’ve seen lemahieu take this year he has looked clueless and doesn’t know what he’s doing, keep barney lemahieu can be our bench player, better yet lets send hit back to double A were he belongs and then we can all prey by the time ramy retires or leaves chicago (2 years) then he will have his 261 average up. give barney a chance, geez.

    1. Jim

      Barney has had his chance, this whole season, and look at the numbers he put up – or did you not read what Brett wrote and replied in response to the title?

      So you want to judge Lemahieu on the few at-bats he has managed while ignoring most of the numbers Barney has put up?

  6. youguysarecrazyyy

    YES and he’s produced! way more than DJ willidc if it’s a 267 avg. he was at or above 300 when we were actually hangin around in the central. then when we faded he faded. so hop off his dick, k jim?

    1. Hogie

      “Since May 2 – that’s 107 of his 133 games – Barney is hitting an unbearable .263/.300/.327″

      That is with regular playing time. Whether the team faded or not, one month of success, with the rest being far less than productive, someone else should be given a real chance to take that spot. Whether DJ can succeed in that spot is to be seen, but he really can’t do a whole lot worse than Barney’s line above.

    2. dreese

      The cubs not in the race for the playoffs is no excuse. EVERY player should play like their job is on the line and that they need to preform to keep starting.

    3. Jim

      Hanging around in the Central? What team were you watching this season? Everyone is hanging around in April – there haven’t been enough games for any team to break loose. So hop off Barney’s dick, k youngguysarestoopid?

  7. baseballet

    At least Quade/Ricketts (Quaditts?) let Barney play and didn’t just stick vets like Baker or DeWitt in there all season. Now we have a decent idea about what we can expect from Barney in the future: solid backup who plays hard and gets fired up. Not too shabby, we’ll take it.
    I wonder why they had that philosophy for second base but not for the other positions. Ramirez, Pena, and Byrd are getting a lot of playing time in the home stretch after the Cubs seemingly didn’t try to move them during the trading deadlines. Anyone have any thoughts as to why Quaditts went with the youngster at 2nd, but not at other positions?

    1. MichiganGoat

      Quaketts

  8. die hard

    Barney will retire if utility role and go on to business career….best for him anyway

    1. pfk

      I doubt that. He’ll be able to make the minimum salary of $414,000, which is more than most people in upper management or even many CEO’s make. Hey, have fun, play some ball and make good dough. Then in 10 years when he’s made a few mil, he can go into biz. I doubt he’ll ever make that kind of dough in business plus he gets MLB’s retirement package, which ain’t shabby either.

  9. pfk

    You know, being a utility player is actually a good gig. There are many utility players who have had long careers and made great money. The least you make is the minimum of $414,000 and if you are productive you can get over $1M/year. So, 15 years later one can bank $6M to $12M. There aren’t a whole lot of things one can do to make that kind of money. Its even more astounding when you consider its a game! Some utility players who’ve made big bucks and have had a long career: Augi Ojeda. Miguel Cairo, Jose Oquendo, Ryan Freel, Mark DeRosa, Mark Loretta, Darin Erstad, Eric Hinske, Willie Harris, Craig Counsell, Mark Itzuris, Bill Hall, Brandon Inge, just to name a few. Anybody know of great Cub utility guys like Paul Popovich and?

    1. TWC

      Doug Dascenzo!

      1. MichiganGoat

        The Original Scrappy

        1. pfk

          What is the Cubs’ all time “scrappy” dream team?

          1. MichiganGoat

            I’m actually planning g on creating one for my blog and the message board, Doug is definitely on the list…now if I can just get all these papers graded.

      2. pfk

        Good one!

  10. auggie1955

    In a similar topic a few days ago someone made the response that basically all the Cubs 2nd base options on the team are the same – Barney, Baker, Dewitt or LeMahieu. I agreed with this, but when I went to Cot’s to see if any better FA 2nd basemen would be available in 2012 I couldn’t find anyone. I do agree that in reality Barney is a utility player, but he is the only one of the group that can play SS. The next GM will be faced with a lot of house cleaning.

    Maybe LeMahiehu will have a great spring training next season and win the starting job from Barney.

  11. Deez

    Think about this?
    Barney & Castro “defensively” are the worst 2B/SS combo in the MLB & we are considering them “Our Future?”
    LeMahiehu & Flaherty deserve an opportunity if not to see how they pan out defensively. Given ABs, most players will hit in the MLBs. You don’t get this far if you can’t hit unless your name is Rey Ordonez or Ozzie Smith.

  12. Caleb

    Other than your subtle inclusion of a quote containing an “upside” reference, I agree with your recommendation and logic. This should be a month of information gathering on some of our minor league potential.

  13. rocky8263

    I hate to give ammo to the Ricketts haters, last night at K.Woods fundraiser T.Ricketts commented to me in front of Barney and Soriano that Darwin is the type of player that’s gonna get us to the World Series. Barney gave a look of disbelief and Soriano walked away. True story. P.S. Garza and Pena know how to party.

    1. MichiganGoat

      Eh, what do you expect to hear him say at a fundraiser in front of Barney.