Josh Barfield isn't off to the kind of start he would like. Through 36 games with the Triple-A Portland Beavers Barfield is hitting just .229 with four homers and 20 RBI. Through the same number of games last season in Double-A Barfield's numbers (.256/4/24) weren't all that different, and he knows this. That's why he's not worried.
"I'm going to hit, I know that, I've been around the game enough to know that things happen in streaks."
Barfield, who was the top ranked Padres prospect by MadFriars.com this season isn't worried, and neither are coaches or Padres front office personnel. There's plenty to like in Josh Barfield, certainly enough to overlook a slow start.
It was an offseason that Barfield spent working to avoid problems he found in 2004. Namely, a hamstring injury he sustained in the spring of '04 that hampered him for a good part of the year.
"I worked hard on getting my body in shape, doing a lot of flexibility work. When I pulled hammy in the spring last year, it really hurt my season, and I don't want that to happen again."
So he came back stronger, and while he was making sure his body was looser, he worked to tighten up his swing.
"I've got a long swing, and it hurts sometimes because I strikeout a lot," Barfield said, "so I've been trying to shorten my swing and cut down on my strikeouts, though I'm not sure it's worked."
Barfield says this with a laugh, as he's K'd 40 times in 140 at bats thus far in the Pacific Coast League, and the laugh isn't nervous. Barfield knows strikeouts are a part of the game, and while he'd like to cut down his, he knows a strikeout isn't the end of the world either.
"I've struck out over 100 times every year in pro ball. It's not something I worry about. When I'm going good and feeling good the strikeouts go down a lot. I know what the problems are, it's about pitch selection. I've been swinging at a lot of balls that I don't have any business swinging at. If I stay in the zone I hit the ball, if I start worrying about striking out then I get anxious at the plate instead of just letting it come to me."
Perhaps the biggest change for Barfield isn't the jump from Double-A to Triple-A, but the move from the three spot in the lineup to the five hole.
"I know I'm capable of hitting in the middle of the order, I think I can hit pretty much anywhere, but I've been in the three hole most of my life. I don't really feel like Triple-A is that much different from Double-A. I think there's a difference in age, a lot of guys will get moved to Double-A really young, but they don't go to Triple-A until they're almost a finished product."
Barfield has the experiences to compare, last October Barfield was invited to the Arizona Fall League, and matched up along side some of the best talent the minor leagues have to offer. Again, intimidation wasn't even part of the equation.
"In Double-A I think guys actually threw hard than they do in Triple-A, but the difference was their command. Guys could really locate. In the AFL the big thing was you saw a lot more cutters, a lot more good sliders, and again, those guys have really good stuff, but a lot of the pitchers are working on specific pitches, new pitches, so sometimes the command in the AFL wasn't as sharp as it is in Triple-A. I guess the way to say it is that in Double-A guys had good sliders, in Triple-A they have a good slider they can throw for a strike, and a good slider they can throw in the dirt."
Barfield got an invite this spring to the Padres Major League spring training, and was always watching the veterans, and learning whatever he could from them.
"Watching those guys, how they carried themselves, how they prepared every day, that was a real learning experience. Everyday I'd be out there picking guys brains, figuring out what they did mentally at the plate, what they did in the minors, how it was different. I wanted to know what these guys did to stay at the Major League level. Dave Roberts was great, very cool, very open and liked talking to the younger guys. Eric Young was another."
When it is mentioned that he and Young are about the same size, and that Young started his career as a second baseman, Barfield considers.
"I'd love to have his longevity in the league. He's been a productive player for a long time. I think we are different players, he's a lead-off guy, a guy who slaps the ball around and moves runners over, I think I'm more of a power guy, more of a run producer, but I can still learn from him, he's a big league player."
There's an excitement in Barfield's voice when he talks about the spring. He admits to thinking about getting to the Majors,
"You're only one level away, so of course you're anxious," he says matter-of-fact-ly, "you see your buddies going up, and you want to make it too. That's why we're all here, but that will come in time.
"I'm seeing a lot of pitchers, seeing a lot of pitches. I'm seeing a lot of guys who have been to the Show, who have gotten a taste. I'm watching those guys work, seeing how they mix their pitches, what they throw in different situations, different counts. I'm learning from those guys, because I really think it's going to help me in the future."