How Does Barton Match-Up?

For every sure-fire prospect who makes it big at the major league level, there is always about a dozen who seem destined for greatness but are unable to reach that level in the big leagues. Daric Barton is currently the A's best prospect and after three outstanding minor league seasons, the sky appears to be the limit for his potential. But how does his early career stack up with some of the game's best hitters? We compare Barton to four stars.

In order for this experiment to work, we only used left-handed hitters who are similar to Daric Barton in terms of skill-set and in terms of the ages and levels that he competed at. For instance, it wouldn't do us much good to compare Barton's high-A numbers to, say, Jason Giambi's because Giambi was three years older than Barton when he was at that level. So for this article, we have used four hitters who meet the following criteria:

1) they had to have been drafted out of high school

2) they had to be left-handed hitters who eventually became middle of the order hitters in the major leagues (as Barton is projected to become)

3) they had to progress through the minors in their first three years at roughly the same pace as Barton did

4) they had to be corner infielders or outfielders whose main game was hitting and not speed

When all was said and done, we found four players who made interesting comparison points: Chipper Jones, Don Mattingly, Nick Johnson and Brian Giles. First, let's present the numbers for Barton's first three seasons as a professional:

Daric Barton

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

2003

JOHNCTY

ROOK

18

.291

.416

.419

172

50

10

0

4

39

48

2004

PEO

MID

19

.313

.445

.511

313

98

23

0

13

69

44

2005

STOCK

CAL

20

.318

.438

.469

292

93

16

2

8

62

49

2005

MID

TX

20

.316

.410

.491

212

67

20

1

5

35

30



Now let's take a look at Chipper Jones, who was drafted as the number one pick overall in the June 1990 draft out of high school by the Braves.

Chipper Jones

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

1990

GCLBRVS

GCL

18

.229

.304

.271

140

32

1

1

1

14

25

1991

MAC

SAL

19

.326

.414

.518

473

154

24

11

15

69

70

1992

DUR

CAR

20

.277

.357

.413

264

73

22

1

4

31

34

1992

GREEN

SOU

20

.346

.376

.594

266

92

17

11

9

11

32



Like Barton, Jones began his career in the Rookie League, then advanced one level to low-A in his second year and played at two levels (high-A and AA) in his second season. With the exception of Jones' struggles in the Rookie League in 1990, both he and Barton put up similar numbers for their respective leagues at the same age. Barton hit better in high-A than Jones and Jones had better numbers in AA, but the numbers are comparable. Both Barton and Jones showed a remarkable ability to control the strike zone at a very young age. Barton is slightly ahead of where Jones was at this stage in terms of being able to draw a walk, and Jones showed a little more power than Barton during his time in AA. However, it should be noted that Jones never hit more than 15 homeruns in any one season as a minor leaguer, and he hasn't hit any fewer than 23 homeruns in any season as a major leaguer. The A's are hoping that Barton will have a similar power development curve. As a point of reference, Jones hit .325/.393/.500 in his only season at AAA, which came at age 21. He missed the 1994 season with a knee injury and then became a fixture in the Braves line-up in 1995.

Unlike Jones and Barton, the man who would later be known as "Donnie Baseball" was not a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. Don Mattingly was drafted in the 19th round of the 1979 draft by the New York Yankees out of Evansville, IN. As you can see from the numbers below, it didn't take long for Mattingly to get noticed once he was in the Yankees' chain.

Don Mattingly

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

1979

ONEO

NYP

18

.349

.451

.488

166

58

10

2

3

30

6

1980

GREENS

SAL

19

.358

.429

.498

494

177

32

5

9

59

33

1981

NASH

SOU

20

.316

.391

.433

547

173

35

4

7

64

55



Like Barton, Mattingly showed a remarkable ability to control the strike zone at a very early age. Although Mattingly hit for a higher average than Barton in low-A, Barton got on-base at a higher clip and slugged a little better. Both Mattingly and Barton had similar third seasons, although Mattingly spent all of his third season in AA rather than beginning in high-A, as Barton did. Barton again slugged better than Mattingly in AA and Barton got on-base more frequently despite having the exact same batting average. Mattingly was much more of a contact hitter at this stage of his career. He didn't walk as much as someone like Barton or Jones, but he hardly ever struck out. That trend would continue during his major league career. Like Jones, Mattingly did not develop homerun power until he reached the major leagues. In his fourth and final season in the minors (spent at AAA), Mattingly hit a career-high 10 homeruns. During the prime of his major league career, Mattingly was consistently a 25 homerun threat in an era when 25 homeruns made a player a serious homerun hitter. Mattingly was also an excellent defensive first baseman, so Barton will have to put a lot of work in to catch Donnie Baseball in that area. Barton will also hope not to have the injury problems that robbed Mattingly of what would have likely been a Hall of Fame career.

Speaking of injuries, another major league hitter with a similar minor league track record to Barton is Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson. Johnson, who was a third round pick of the New York Yankees in 1996 out of a Sacramento high school, has had his promising major league career derailed by injuries thus far. However, when Johnson is healthy, he is generally considered one of the better young first basemen in the league and a player with a reputation for having a similar grasp of the strike zone to Barton.

Nick Johnson

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

1996

GCLYAN

GCL

18

.287

.404

.408

157

45

11

1

2

30

35

1997

GREENS

SAL

19

.273

.384

.441

433

118

23

1

16

76

99

1998

TAM

FSL

20

.317

.444

.538

303

96

14

1

17

68

76



Injuries robbed Johnson of a chance to move up to AA during his third season of professional baseball. When he did get to AA in 1998, he exploded for a 1043 OPS, posting a ridiculous .495 OBP and a .548 SLG. Johnson would make the major leagues in 2001 and has only been back to the minor leagues for injury rehabilitation assignments since then. As you can see, Barton compares very favorably to Johnson. Although he had decent plate presence at the start of his career, Johnson's batting eye did not catch up to Barton's until he reached high-A in his third professional season. Johnson did show more homerun power than Barton, however, hitting homeruns once every 18 at-bats in high-A, compared to Barton's high-A ratio of once every 36 at-bats. Ironically, despite showing more power in the minor leagues than either Jones or Mattingly, Johnson has yet to show that kind of plus power at the major league level, although some of that may have to do with the myriad of injuries Johnson has suffered from and his misfortune of playing last season at the cavernous RFK Stadium.

Our last comparison is perhaps the most interesting because, of all of the players, this person showed the least amount of power early on in his minor league career. Brian Giles was an excellent hitter from the time he joined the Indians organization as a 17th round pick in 1989. However, the power production part of his game didn't develop until his fifth minor league season.

Brian Giles

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

1989

BURL

APP

18

.310

.368

.364

129

40

7

0

0

11

19

1990

WAT

NYP

19

.289

.408

.378

246

71

15

2

1

48

23

1991

KINS

CAR

20

.310

.414

.376

394

122

14

0

4

68

70



Unlike Barton, Giles would not reach AA until the middle of his fourth minor league season and he would repeat AA in his fifth minor league campaign. Stuck behind the talented Cleveland outfield of the 1990s, Giles wouldn't reach the big leagues for good until 1996. Despite never hitting more than 16 homeruns in any one season as a minor leaguer, Giles' career-low as a major leaguer is 15, which he hit last year in the homerun-averse PETCO Park. Giles' first three minor league seasons are similar to Barton's in that both players showed a remarkable knack for getting on-base. However, Barton far outstrips Giles in the power categories. It wasn't until Giles turned 23 that power became part of his game. Despite that late development, Giles has managed to hit 246 career major league homeruns.

Conclusion

So what do all of these comparisons tell us? Well, for one, it gives us a chance to appreciate how well Barton has performed thus far in his career. His career path has matched up very favorably to four excellent left-handed hitters. If Barton can play like any of these four at the major league level, the A's will undoubtedly be very pleased. This comparison is also useful because it demonstrates how late power can develop for excellent hitters, especially those who come straight out of high school. For three of these four hitters, homerun power didn't really emerge until their 22nd birthdays. Consequently, no one should be too concerned if it takes Barton another year to develop his power potential.


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