Daric Barton: Hot Bat, Hot Corner

After getting off to a slow start in April, Oakland A's prospect Daric Barton has been swinging the bat extremely well, raising his batting average up to .293. Barton has been particularly hot in June. His hot streak has coincided with playing time at third base defensively. Although his defense at third is a work in progress, Barton is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.

On Sunday, Sacramento River Cats' infielder Daric Barton went 2-4 with two RBI to extend his season-high hitting streak to 13 games. After struggling in April to the tune of a .221 BA, Barton has seen his offensive numbers steadily climb. He hit .273 with an 869 OPS in May and is batting a blistering .439 with a .500 OBP and a 1114 OPS in 57 June at-bats. For the season, Barton is batting .293 with an 839 OPS in 242 at-bats.

According to Barton, his improvement has been a result of staying back on the ball better and being quieter at the plate.

"I've been a little bit more selective. I have slowed my feet down a lot. I was rushing early and jumping out at pitches. Now I have slowed my feet down and am staying back to look for a good pitch to hit," Barton said.

One of the trademarks of Barton's successful minor league career thus far has been his ability to make adjustments at the plate and in the field. He has traditionally been a slow starter offensively, but he has shown the ability to adjust to the league and has been a strong May through August hitter throughout his minor league career.

On defense, Barton has had to make a number of adjustments, as well. Barton began his career as a catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals chain, but he was moved to first base when he arrived in the Oakland organization in 2005. The transition from catching to playing first hasn't always been a smooth one for Barton. His 2006 season was cut short when he broke his elbow in a collision while covering the bag at first base. He endured another scary collision at first in late May, but escaped with only a bruised wrist. Recently, Barton has been asked to play over at third base, a position he hasn't played since he was in high school, giving him two positions to work on in the field.

Barton knows that the ability to make adjustments is the key to playing well at the higher levels.

"I don't know if I'll ever get used to [playing at a higher level such as Triple-A]. You are making adjustments everyday. You can never get to the point where you think you have it down because it will bite you in the rear-end," Barton said.

"I feel real comfortable playing in Sacramento. I have never felt more comfortable at first base than I have this season. Moving over to third, I am starting there new so we'll see how that goes. Offensively, I can't be much happier than I am right now."

Barton's foray into playing the hot corner has not come without pratfalls, however. In 17 games at third base, Barton has made nine errors. When asked about his play at third, Barton assessed himself honestly.

"I've been terrible. Haven't you seen?" Barton said with a laugh.

"I'm still trying to get used to it again. I played there in high school, but I have been banging my head mentally a little bit about making errors over there. It's the same game it has always been. All you have to do is catch the ball and throw the ball. I am feeling a little more comfortable every day."

Barton didn't know whether the change to third was a permanent one, however. When asked why he thought the team had moved him over to third base, Barton said that he had no clue.

"We are short on guys. Any way I can help the team, I am going to play and try to do my best over there," Barton said.

Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco acknowledged that the River Cats' banged-up roster was one of the reasons that Barton had been moved to the hot corner. DeFrancesco also noted, however, that the added versatility may accelerate Barton's path to the major leagues.

"Any way that he can strengthen his ability to get to the big leagues quicker is a positive for Daric," DeFrancesco said.

"Dan Johnson was swinging the bat well and Eric Chavez is established at third base [in Oakland], but [Barton] is going to have to break into the big leagues eventually, so if he can be more versatile and play some first and third, that will only make it easier to get some at-bats up there."

One thing is for certain: Barton will gladly endure the missteps of learning to play third over putting the catching gear back on. When asked about his preference for playing third over catching, Barton was quick with his answer.

"Oh, third, definitely," Barton said with a big smile.

"Catching is tough. I love catching, but it is hard on the body."

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