Oakland A's Prospect Q&A: Daric Barton, 1B

Last year at this time, it was assumed that Daric Barton would be starting his 2007 season in Oakland, not Sacramento. However, a broken elbow cost him most of his 2006 campaign, and set back his major league debut by at least a few months. Barton is back healthy and ready to take the PCL by storm. We spoke with the talented first baseman just before the start of his 2007 season.

Daric Barton's 2006 season came to a crash halt on a seemingly innocuous play. Barton was attempting to catch a wide throw at first when he collided with the runner, Tony Womack. The collision was violent and left Barton with a fractured elbow. The injury all-but ended Barton's season, leaving him with only 43 games of experience at Triple-A. He made a late-season comeback in the Arizona Rookie League, but a pulled hamstring shut him down for good in mid-August.

Fully healed by October, Barton headed down to the Dominican Republic, where he participated in the Dominican Winter League for the first time. Barton was the best hitter on Los Azucareros del Este, batting third in the order for most of the season. He was even included on the team's post-season roster, a rare invitation for a first time participant in the DWL. Barton homered during the round robin.

Barton rode that wave of momentum into major league spring training camp, where he was impressive at the plate. He hit .440 with a .563 OBP, and he had a homer, a double and five RBIs. Continuing a career-long pattern, Barton walked more than he struck out this spring.

With Travis Buck in the major leagues, Barton is unquestionably the best pure hitter in the A's minor league system. Barring another injury, 2007 should be the last season for Barton in the minor leagues. We recently spoke to the 21-year-old about his recovery from injury, his winter ball experiences and his desire to improve defensively.

How is your elbow?

Daric Barton: It feels really good. One hundred percent. It was probably one hundred percent back in October. I had a little scuffle in Rookie Ball, pulled my hamstring a little bit, but I was healthy as of [October] and everything feels great now.

Was it hard to rehab from the injury?

DB: I wouldn't say it was hard. It was just more aggravating, knowing that I couldn't play any more that year. It sucked because I wasn't up here [in Sacramento] and I missed a lot of time. I missed 100 games, so that is a lot of experience I missed and probably a lot of opportunities to get better, but I am back now and ready for this year.

How was your experience playing winter ball in the Dominican this off-season?

DB: Well, the baseball was awesome. The off-field stuff was new and different, but I did what I had to do there and I learned a lot of Spanish, enough that I could communicate with the other guys and enough to get around. Overall, it was a good experience. I learned a lot and played with a bunch of good guys.

Would you rate the level of play in winter ball as similar to Triple-A?

DB: There were a bunch of [major league or Triple-A level] guys down there. There were also a number of young guys who throw hard and don't really know where it is going. Jose Lima, Antonio Alfonseca, there were a bunch of [major league] guys who play down there every year. I played against Robinson Cano, as well.

It was a good atmosphere. They took care of the Americans really well. Baseball is a big deal for them down there. It's an all-year thing for them. If they aren't out on a baseball field, they are out on a grass patch or anywhere they can find to take groundballs and stuff. It was a great experience.

Did playing winter ball help you have a good spring training?

DB: Yeah, definitely. I got healthy out there [in the Dominican League] really quick and it got me baseball ready in a hurry. I had a month off after that season and I then I worked out for a month and was really ready for spring training.

Was it difficult to go back out to first base for the first time after the collision or is it out of your mind?

DB: It's always going to be in my mind, but it is just a part of the game. It happens. You know, probably if that play happens again unless it is a really important game or a really important run, I'm going to let it go and not risk hurting myself unless it is a really important game.

When you were first hurt, the trainers told us they thought you'd be out for six weeks or something like that. Was that what they told you?

DB: They told me six-to-eight weeks and I thought I'd be ready to go in six-to-eight weeks. I don't know why, but it took a lot longer. I think it ended up being something like 10 weeks. I was ready to come back and then I happened to pull my hamstring and they shut me down for the rest of the season and that was that.

Is there anything in particular in your game that you are looking to improve this season?

DB: Defense. Always defense. You can always improve defensively as well as offensively. I'm just looking forward to working with the guys here [in Sacramento]. Last year, I got hurt so I didn't get to work as much with them, but this year I am ready to get to work and learn. There is always room for improvement.

Did you get a chance to work much with Dan Johnson this spring before he got hurt?

DB: Yeah, we talked a lot during spring training. He helped me realize that you have to be aggressive when you are playing at first base and be less timid. You really have to attack the ball instead of letting it come to you. That's the main thing we talked about and we went through a lot of different scenarios and that helped a lot.

Are you done with catching?

DB: For right now, yes. You never know what is going to happen in the future, but for right now, catching is in the past.

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