Offensively, it has been an up-and-down season for Oakland A's prospect Jeremy Barfield. The Double-A Midland Rockhounds outfielder has posted a .263/.330/.395 line in 105 games with nine homers and 62 RBIs. He has excelled at times this season – posting OPSs of 942 and 861 in April and June, respectively – but he has also struggled in stretches, with OPSs of 649 in May and 523 in June.
|The Stockton Ports' Jeremy Barfield "RocketArm" giveaway. b>|
Defensively, Barfield has been a more steady force. His left arm has a well-deserved reputation for being a lethal weapon in the outfield. Last year, he led the Cal League with 24 outfield assists. Despite the fact that many teams choose not to challenge Barfield, he is still racking up the assists. He is currently second in the Texas League with 15. Barfield's 2010 squad, the High-A Stockton Ports, recently honored Barfield's arm with a "Rocketarm" giveaway to fans at Banner Island Ballpark.
The gregarious Barfield comes from a rich baseball background. His father Jesse and his older brother Josh have both played in the big leagues. Jeremy grew up around the game, and learned from players such as Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson at an early age. The Texas native, who turned 23 last month, is leaning on all of the experiences of his family and friends to help guide him through the difficult Texas League.
Selected in the eighth round in the 2008 amateur draft by Oakland, Barfield has moved up a level each season. He is looking for a strong finish to the 2011 season in an attempt to punch his ticket to Triple-A for the 2012 season and to help drive the Rockhounds to the 2011 playoffs. Barfield's teams have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
I caught-up with Barfield during a rare off-day for the Rockhounds.
OaklandClubhouse: As a team, you guys have been playing a lot better lately and are making a late run at the playoffs. Does this team remind you at all of last year's team in Stockton?
Jeremy Barfield: Yeah, it does. Just about this time last year we had that winning streak [14 games]. We had a lot of players just get hot and we built a lot of momentum. We have had a lot of personnel changes with this team, a lot more than we did last year. I've noticed that. Every move that we've had has just improved us even more.
OC: You guys are welcoming the A's top pick from this year's draft [Sonny Gray] this week? Do you guys have any hazing plans for him when he gets there?
JB: Oh we can't share that. [laughs] Once it's over, we'll definitely share. It's going to be epic, but we can't share it until it happens.
OC: Fair enough. [laughs] Talking about your season, it's been up-and-down, with the red-hot April and the struggles in June and a rebound in July. How would you assess your season personally thus far?
JB: It's been a rollercoaster. Up and down. I'm just trying to stay positive because this game is already a game of failure. So I'm just trying to stay positive and make adjustments because that is the only way that I can get better. Of course, everybody wants to do better and I know that I can do better. But it's just a learning process and I know that.
OC: How would you characterize this league? You've played in three other leagues before this year [Northwest, Midwest and California]. Does this league compare to any of those or is it its own, special animal?
JB: It's a lot like the Midwest League except 20 or 30 degrees hotter. But it's similar just the way that the ball does not carry. It's tough for homeruns in this league. You just have to find other ways to win ballgames other than hitting homeruns. It's really deflating to fly out to the warning track on a consistent basis.
OC: You grew up in Texas. Is this the weather you grew up in? I've heard that it has been hotter in Texas than normal this summer. Is it wearing to play in 100 degrees everyday?
JB: Yeah, I grew up with this, but Midland is a whole other level. It has rained there once in the past year. It's really tough. I wouldn't even say it's the weather. This league will definitely weed out guys who just don't have it. The bus rides will get you. We have a 14-hour bus ride coming up with no off-day. That's crunch time right there, especially in the mid- to late-August weather coming up. It's tough to go out there to perform everyday but you have to find a way.
OC: You had a chance to play close to home the past few days with the team in Corpus Christi and you hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning in one of the games. Did you have family and friends at the game? How was that experience?
JB: Yeah, my parents came and it was nice to see them and I had some friends there as well. It was really nice because the pitcher I hit it off of [Jason Stoffel] was with the Giants last year in San Jose and I may have gotten one hit off of him all season. Finally I got the best of him. It only took me like 20 at-bats [laughs], but it was the best situation possible.
OC: The major league trade deadline just passed. I don't know if it is as big a deal for you guys in Double-A as it is for the Triple-A guys, but was it something that you guys paid attention to?
JB: We try not to. It was interesting. It wasn't really the trade deadline that got our attention so much as the fact that we were playing Corpus at the time – we were down there again – and the Astros had just made a bunch of deals. So guys we had played against in the previous series [with Corpus Christi], the Astros had three guys starting in the big leagues from that series. That was just like, ‘wow, we just played these guys and now they are in the big leagues starting.' That isn't even a distraction. That's just an eye-opener to show how close you really are to the big leagues.
OC: Does that give you a measuring stick in terms of what it is going to take to play in the big leagues?
JB: You never really know why some moves are made. You look at some guys and you are like, ‘how are they up there' and you look at other guys and you are like ‘how are they still here?' There really is no measuring stick for how or why players get called up there. You really can't worry about it because you have no control.
OC: How much do you gain from your brother [Josh Barfield] either regarding the successes or failures that he has had in moving up through the minor leagues during his career?
JB: It's nice. It helps me to be prepared for certain situations that he has already been through. It is nice that I have that resource already there because I don't have to reach. He is really big into controlling the things that you can control. That just keeps my attention on the playing field and not on the things that could distract me. There are enough things going on on the field without something else distracting me from improving my performance.
OC: You have gained quite a reputation for your throwing arm in right field. How much pride do you take in your defense and in being able to limit runners from taking an extra base on you?
JB: I love playing defense. I take so much pride in it because even when you are not hitting, you can still steal a hit from somebody. You can still save a run. That is just as rewarding as hitting a homerun or getting a base hit if I can steal a base hit from somebody else, and I help my team out in the process. I take so much pride in my defense.
OC: The past couple of years you have had to deal with some knee problems both during the season and in the off-season. How are your knees feeling this year?
JB: They are feeling much better. They bounced back this year. This is as good as they have felt since 2008.
OC: Do you think you will be driving limos again during the off-season or do you have other plans?
JB: [laughs] No, I'm planning on playing winter ball.
OC: So you are feeling good enough to play extra games this year. That must be a much different feeling for you than the past two Augusts.
JB: Yeah absolutely. This is new to me and I like it.
OC: You have developed a following on Twitter [@Baseclogger is Barfield's Twitter handle]. What is it like to interact with fans and other people on Twitter? Do you enjoy it?
JB: It's nice because I value my privacy, but with that, I can still interact with people. I can let out what I want to let out, which is nice. I like to have fun with it. The players, especially guys in other organizations, we like to interact with each other on there. I think it is a good for players. It's a good thing for fans. I enjoy it.
OC: How did you become a right-handed hitter being a left-handed thrower? Was that something you picked up because your dad was a right-handed hitter?
JB: Actually, it's mostly because my dad played with Rickey [Henderson] on two different teams. My mom is a really good cook so he'd always come over for dinner. Rickey has three daughters. He doesn't have any boys, so he pretty much dressed me up like him, like I was his son. My dad always said that if you want to be like Rickey, you will be batting right and throwing left.
OC: Have you had a chance to work with Rickey during the past few seasons?
JB: Oh yeah. Last year a couple of times and he's been out to Midland a few times as well.
OC: What has he been working on with you guys specifically. Has it been just base-running or both offensive and defensive approaches?
JB: All of it. He works with the outfielders a lot on getting good jumps, reading the ball off the bat, that sort of thing. And obviously the base-running. Offensively, yeah, he's the greatest lead-off hitter ever so whatever you can pattern yourself after from him.
OC: What are your goals for the rest of this season?
JB: Honestly, if the team keeps winning, the offensive goals will take care of themselves. At the end of the day, though, you have to have numbers to base something off of to build your case for next year. Right now, I can't worry about homeruns because this league is the last league to be worrying about that. I've got to get my average up. That's all there is to it. There are a few things there, but if I do those things, I will be helping my team win ballgames and that is all that really matters.