Barney Still Rolling Off Fall League Momentum

SEVIERVILLE -- Tennessee Smokies shortstop Darwin Barney had an up and down season last year at Class High-A Daytona, but has found a way to become consistent at the plate at Double-A with a .333 batting average through 43 games. He leads the team with 50 hits.

Before being drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Barney helped Oregon State University to two NCAA College World Series Championships.

He doesn't think that playing at a major college program like Oregon State gave him an edge over prospects that come straight from high school or attend smaller programs. He does think that it made the transition to the minors easier, however.

"I wouldn't say it's an edge. I'd say that for me personally, it put the concern of playing on that stage and in front of that many people out of the picture. I've played in big games, made big plays and had big at-bats," Barney said.

Although Barney had many big at-bats throughout his college career, he doesn't approach his professional at-bats the same way.

"You come here and the at-bats are just as important for your career, but you don't hang on every one of them like you do in college. Here it's more about development," Barney says.

Barney is developing nicely after he took advantage of some opportunities to work with some of baseball's top prospects.

"I got some momentum in the Fall League and felt like I could handle the pitching at this level," Barney says. "The Fall League is kind of the pitching you're going to see at Double-A, Triple-A and some of the big leagues, so I was confident.

"Things just kind of started rolling my way," Barney said.

The league Barney refers to is the Arizona Fall League, where he and other Cubs prospects joined prospects from the Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers organizations to make up the 2008 Mesa Solar Sox roster.

The privilege to play in the Fall League was perhaps more beneficial to Barney this season because the Solar Sox were managed by Smokies manager Ryne Sandberg. At that time, Sandberg had just finished his second season managing Class-A Peoria.

"Having the opportunity to work with Sandberg on primarily offense really helped me on my approach. In the AFL, you're seeing a good arm every day and it instills confidence when you're swinging the bat," Barney said.

The AFL is known for attracting some of baseball's top prospects every year. Barney was well aware of the talent level around him and the success rate of players who have the opportunity to spend the fall in Arizona.

"You're playing against guys that 60 percent are supposedly going to make their big league debut within the next year, so I'd say it put me in the right mindset and gave me some confidence coming into this year," Barney said.

According to Major League Baseball, over 1,500 prospects that have played in the AFL have gone on to play in the big leagues. Success rates like that stimulated Barney's aspirations to play for the Cubs one day. It also made him realize that his once long-shot dream now seems very reachable.

"The big leagues seem so far away your whole life. You're drafted and the big leagues still seem so far away. The Fall League and going to big league camp gave me an idea of how close I really am," Barney said.

Barney's .333 average is now second highest on the team after catcher Steve Clevenger was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday. Barney now only trails first baseman Blake Lalli, who has 50 fewer at-bats, in that category.

"He's continued on the same pace (as the Fall League)," Sandberg said. "I had him there in Arizona. He made a real nice showing and he went to big league camp from there. I see a nice steady development. He's developing real fine and is heading on a nice path."

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