(MCT) — MESA, Ariz. — Darwin Barney has enough confidence in his ability he bragged last year he would spend the offseason taking his manager’s money on the golf course.
Barney did manage to beat Dale Sveum, though he admitted it really wasn’t a fair match.
“Dale gave me like a stroke a hole,” he said. “Out of nowhere, Dale is like a scratch golfer. It came down to the last hole, and I stuck the green and beat him. I guess he beat me by 17, but I beat him overall.”
Barney has been beating the odds since the Cubs made him a fourth-round draft pick out Oregon State in 2007, climbing the ladder to become the team’s starting second baseman in 2011 when he beat out Jeff Baker in spring training.
At the end of the 2010 season, Baseball Prospectus had Barney ranked 18th in the Cubs’ system, well behind their top-ranked prospects, Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt, Chris Archer and Josh Vitters.
The BP scouting report on Barney read: “He’ll never be a star, will rarely start, but Barney could play a decade in the majors.”
Entering his third big league season, Barney may not be a star, but he played in 156 games last year, tying a major league record for consecutive error-less games at second and earning his first Gold Glove award.
Now Barney hopes to establish himself as one of the league’s top second baseman by improving his offense and becoming an all-around player.
“Obviously you want to keep the same standards defensively, keep that work ethic up,” he said. “Offensively, we’ve been working on a lot of things with my approach. A couple of tweaks mechanically — just trying to find a way to stay consistent and keep out of those ruts.”
Barney hit .254 with a .299 on- base percentage in 2012, down from .276/.313 in his rookie season in 2011. He excelled at Wrigley Field (.303) but struggled on the road (.206).
Sveum said last year that Barney could be a .300 hitterbut he has to prove it. Sveum, hitting coach James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rob Deer worked with Barney in November in Arizona to boost his slugging percentage.
“It’s not about hitting .300,” Sveum said. “It’s more about the OPS for him. He has slugging percentage on his pull (right) side that he never really took advantage of last year, trying to hit the ball away on every pitch.”
Sveum said it wasn’t so much a lesson in mechanics, but a change in “philosophy” that Barney needs to fix.
“It’s about getting the mindset straight,” Sveum said. “Your job is to hit the ball hard. It doesn’t matter where it goes.”
The Cubs are bringing top prospect Javier Baez to camp this spring, and Sveum said he would play some second base as well as shortstop, his natural position. If the Cubs keep Starlin Castro at shortstop for years, as they insist they will, Baez could be looked upon as the second baseman of the future.
Does Barney have to fend off Baez, the phenom the Cubs are touting as the future of the organization?
“Not necessarily,” he said. “Anything that can make this club better, that’s kind of what we’re looking for, If you can have a (Junior) Lake or Baez or someone who can come in and fill in somewhere, all the better for us. If I lose a job and go play somewhere else, that’s life.
“Our goal is to get better, and it takes players like him to get better. (Being part of the core) is everybody’s goal. But baseball is baseball. If I take care of my duties, the team is going to be better in the future when those guys come in.”