It may be flying under the radar of many prospect-watchers, but outfielder Jeremy Barfield is putting together a career-best season so far in his second season with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds. The Houston native is currently batting .303 (814 OPS) with 60 hits in 198 at-bats. Thirteen of those hits have been doubles, which is the second most on the team.
Barfield has shown some power this season with six bombs, tied for second-most on the ‘Hounds. His 33 RBI ranks him sixth in the Texas League along with teammates Dusty Coleman and Michael Spina. Barfield has been getting on base at a solid clip, as well, with a .355 on-base percentage to go along with a team-leading .460 slugging percentage, good for 11th-highest in the league.
Barfield's journey could have begun in 2006, when he was selected by the New York Mets in the ninth-round of the MLB draft out of Klein (TX) High School. Instead of signing with the Mets, he attended San Jacinto Junior College in Pasadena, Texas. San Jacinto, a junior college baseball powerhouse, is known for being the alma mater of major league greats Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. After two seasons with San Jacinto, Barfield entered the draft again in 2008 and was selected in the eighth-round by Oakland.
This time Barfield was ready to begin his professional career and he signed quickly with the A's. Oakland sent Barfield to Vancouver to sharpen his abilities in short-season A ball. In 69 games with the Canadians, he hit .271 and recorded 68 hits. He was ranked among the Northwest League leaders in RBI (tied-fifth, 41) and doubles (tied-10th, 17).
His next stop came with Low-A Kane County in 2009, where he would spend the entire season. There he was named to the Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star team. On May 12 of that season, Barfield had a game for the record books when he hit three home runs with seven RBI against Burlington.
Barfield continued his climb through the minor leagues in 2010 with High-A Stockton. In 135 games with the Ports, the 23-year-old batted .272 (757 OPS) and set professional career highs in RBI (92, third in A's organization), hits (138, tied-fifth in organization), total bases and home runs (17, seventh).
Last year Barfield played his first season with the Rockhounds. He finished eighth in Oakland's organization in RBI (72) and 10th in hits (127). However, he only managed a .257 batting average and a .384 slugging percentage in 131 games and he was forced to repeat a level for the first time in his career.
Because of his struggles with the Rockhounds last season, he has taken a new approach this season when he steps up to bat.
"I'm being a lot more aggressive this year than I have been in the past," Barfield said. "Taking advantage of strikes I get early in the count has really paid dividends so far. I didn't change my swing as much as my approach at the plate."
Barfield also credits the success to his off-season work.
"This past off-season I went back to the basics with my swing," he said. "I got too fine last season and tried to be too pretty with it instead of just focusing on the results."
Despite enjoying his time with the ‘Hounds, Barfield said his main goal is to not be in Midland the entire year.
"It's my second year here and I know there are plenty of guys that stall at Double-A," Barfield said. "I just don't want to be another one of those statistics."
Barfield's father Jesse was known for his strong throwing arm when he roamed major league outfields in the 1980s. Jeremy has a similar weapon with his left arm and has consistently led or been among the leaders in all of the minor leagues in outfield assists throughout his career. He works on his defense and long toss everyday. That work paid off last season, when he had 21 outfield assists. He led all of Double-A and Triple-A Baseball in that category. This year, Barfield already has 10 outfield assists.
"I realize defense is important and it's always good to have it, but the game is all about hitting," Barfield said.
"I led Double-A but I'm back here because my hitting wasn't there. I put more emphasis this off-season on honing my offensive game. I still want to keep up the defense but I'm really trying to be more of an offensive force."
A temptation for minor leaguers is to be wondering constantly when they are going to be called-up, which can affect performance. Barfield tries to avoid thinking along those lines.
"I try not to because it happens when it happens," he said. "You can't worry about that when it's out of your control. I can only put myself in a good position to get promoted."