"It's a huge change," Barton says when questioned about the consistency, "in Hi-A everybody's got the breaking stuff, but they haven't really learned how to throw it for a strike all the time. You get to Double-A and 2-0, 3-1, you're expecting a fastball and they drop a big curveball on the corner. It really keeps you guessing."
So at least he noticed. Wait, did he say he was guessing?
"I just do the same thing I've been doing since I was seven years old, I see a pitch that I think I can hit and I try to hit it."
Apparently Daric Barton has been ready for the Arizona Fall League since before he was playing in the Babe Ruth League.
Barton was the biggest carrot the Cardinals could dangle in front of the Oakland A's when St. Louis was trying to acquire Mark Mulder. Drafted as a catcher in the first round of the 2003 draft Barton was perhaps the most complete high school player in the draft that year. His compact swing and broad shoulders indicated that even if the power wasn't there right at the start it would come, and any time a catcher can hit .300 and draw walks he's going to open eyes. He certainly opened them in the A's organization, any time you get moved for a left handed staff 'Ace' who seems to be eternally attached to Cy Young Award discussions, somebody likes you.
The change in organizations might have been exactly what the doctor ordered for Barton, as Oakland's style of ball just fits his style of play.
"It's a little more disciplined style of baseball in Oakland," Barton says, "the St. Louis organization is great, and the coaches know what they are doing, but their style is a little more aggressive. They like to steal, hit and run, bunt guys over and try to make things happen on the bases. In Oakland they don't really steal bases too often, they preach walking a lot, getting 'em on and getting 'em in. I like to take pitches, I've always had a good eye, and in St. Louis there were just times when I'd be asked to hit and run and end up swinging I pitches I might normally have taken. It's just a different philosophy. I'm not going to say one is better than the other, I just think one fits my game a little better."
Oakland's front office certainly will be happy to hear that statement. Especially considering the first thing they did when they got a hold of Barton was move him out from behind the plate. It was an adjustment, but not a big one for Barton.
"I'd played first base in high school," the just-turned-20-year old says, "so it wasn't really a tough transition at all for me. You still have to work, and that's what I'm down here to do, just take good angels on the ball and get my footwork down. It's pretty obvious out there, there aren't a lot of secrets to playing first, but I'm working hard and getting better."
Of course, the road at first base could be a tough one, with Nick Swisher, Dan Johnson, and a host of other prospects in the Oakland system currently manning first base and having success. Could a switch back behind the dish be in order?
"Nobody's talked to me about that," Barton says with a smile. Could it be that he's enjoying his time away from the foul tips, home plate collisions, and equipment that is oh-so-comfortable in the August sun?
"It's definitely easier over at first," Barton says still smiling.
As far as the Arizona Fall League is concerned Barton is right on target. He's hitting .320 through his first eight games, with a homer and eight RBI, and surprise surprise, he's got more walks than strikeouts. Is it really this easy for him, from Hi-A to Double-A and now the AFL?
"I'm just trying to have good at bats down here, and if I do that everything will work out."
That's a philosophy he takes into all aspects of the game. Barton works hard, and good things come to him, but will that include a spot on the A's 25 man roster on opening day?
"My plan is to go into Spring Training and do what I can to make the team. With all those guys, Johnson and Swisher and everybody, there's a lot of competition. All I can do is play hard and work hard, and if I'm ready I'm sure they'll give me a shot."