By rule, a club is allowed to bring to the Fall League one player that was assigned to a Class-A roster at the end of the regular season. The Cubs selected shortstop Darwin Barney.
Barney, a fourth-round draft pick from Oregon State in 2007, is happy the offer was extended to him.
"I look at it as a good opportunity, the opportunity to hone my skills with some of the best players around," said Barney. "I really personally feel I can lift my game to a different level."
Barney, 22, batted .262 with 22 doubles and 51 RBIs in 123 games this past season at Daytona (Advanced-A) in what he termed a "successful first season" in pro ball. He made it through the year injury free, and along the way learned a lot about himself and the way the game is supposed to be played.
Numbers-wise, though, it was an up and down season, and Barney says he's focused on not holding onto statistics.
"I'm really just trying to put good at-bats together and put a good swing on the ball," he said. "I'm doing a lot of work with video and looking over my swings, and talking with guys doing a lot of one-on-one stuff like that. I think that will build confidence."
What Barney is also doing is building the right routine before and during games. Being around top prospects from five different major league clubs on a daily basis as a member of the Mesa Solar Sox, Barney is able to gauge how different players get prepared for each game.
He's able to compare and contrast their workout regimes, techniques and other modus operandi that he hopes will help prepare him every day for a full season.
"I'm kind of taking it like that and trying to find it (a routine)," said Barney. "You want to find a routine that works for you that gets you ready for a game day in and day out, and that's one of the things I'm working on here."
There as usual is a mountain of youth being served in the Fall League, and if history is any indication, many players will be transitioning themselves onto major league rosters in the near future.
According to Major League Baseball, 56 percent of this year's playoff rosters were comprised of players who spent their minor league days in the Fall League: from Boston's Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew, to the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot.
Barney hopes that one day he'll be part of the AFL alumni in the big leagues. For now, his work in Arizona is on "just everything."
"I don't think there's one part of my game where I don't think I can get better at," said Barney. "I'm definitely working on my approach, putting the right swing on the ball. I feel like I'm making consistent contact, so I'm just trying to get (the ball) to the right place at the right time."
In 11 games in Arizona, Barney is batting .281 (9-for-32) with three doubles and five RBIs. He entered Thursday with a four-game hit streak.
As a player, Barney has been knocked by some for lacking a true identity. He's not overly flashy; does not hit for power; does not post overwhelming numbers for average; does not steal many bases, and often plays suspect defense at short (he committed 21 errors with Daytona this past season).
Scouts and coaches describe Barney as a player that can do many of the little things well, yet they struggle to name any one area in which he really stands out.
But his manager at Daytona this past season, former big leaguer Jody Davis, says it's Barney's ability to make routine plays and display leadership qualities on the field that endures him the most.
"He just makes the plays," said Davis. "He's one of those guys that's used to winning. He's a leader and a guy that runs the show out there. That's the big thing that he brings to the game."
The Cubs are hoping Barney can bring add versatility as well, and that's one of the big reasons they penciled him in to play in the Fall League.
"We wanted Darwin Barney to get a chance to go there and play short and maybe second just to give him some versatility," said Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' Vice President of Player Personnel.
Barney has started nine games in Arizona, all at shortstop. But he's been taking his reps at second in case the Cubs insert him there in games.
And currently casting his shadow over Barney is none other than one of the finest second basemen to ever play the position – Ryne Sandberg.
A Hall of Fame player and Cubs minor league manager, Sandberg serves as the Solar Sox hitting coach, and Barney has taken a liking to his new mentor of sorts.
"You've got to be ready for every play and Sandberg is one of the best guys to learn from," Barney said. "He had one of the best routines and he said that … if he threw the ball away before the game, he'd take 10 more of the same play. I'm trying to feed off that and hone my game that way."
Barney says for now it's all touch-and-feel.
"I haven't played in a game at second yet. I've gotten all my innings at short, but I'm taking some reps here and there at second base in case they throw me out there and see what I can do," he said.
"In this league, you're really just trying to raise your (play) up to the pace of the game. The higher the level you go, the faster the level is going to be and you want to make sure you can slow it down."
He hopes his stint in the Fall League will pepper him with added confidence going into next season, where it's possible he could begin the season at Double-A.
"Taking that (confidence) to the offseason and trying to come in and prepare myself for next season with all the knowledge I gained over this season and the opportunity to play in the Fall League is really going to better prepare me for next year I think," Barney said.
Barney Searching for the Right Routine
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