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Barton's bat turning heads in Oakland03/08/2006 10:48 PM ET
By Rick Eymer
TUCSON, Ariz. -- First base seems crowded in the Oakland Athletics organization. The presence in camp of one of their top prospects in Daric Barton only fuels that perception. At first glance, with Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher both in their second year with Oakland, there could be a long wait before something opens up at the position. The 20-year-old Barton, who played in the Futures Game at Comerica Park during last year's All-Star festivities, knows he's not competing for a job at the Major League level this year and just wants to give the A's a good look at his talents. Besides, Barton may not be limited to first base. His talents include the ability to play third base, catch, and more importantly in Oakland general manager Billy Beane's world, Barton has shown an ability to reach base. Those are qualities likely to get him to Oakland sooner rather than later. He's scheduled to start the season in Triple-A Sacramento. "Consistency" has assumed a major role in Barton's vocabulary, as in showing the A's he's capable of giving a good effort day in and day out. Barton came to Oakland with pitchers Dan Haren and Kiko Calero as part of the trade that sent Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals in December 2004. He was originally drafted as a catcher when the Cardinals made him their first round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. Barton didn't wait long to start his professional career, signing a contract a week after the draft. He was in the lineup for Johnson City of the rookie-level Appalachian League soon after. He was too anxious to play baseball to take it easy after graduating from Marina High in Huntington Beach, Calif. "They saw what I could do last year," Barton said. "I don't want to overdo it, or try to prove too much. I did that the first two months last year, and I wasn't producing." What the A's saw was a guy who could hit with power (a combined 13 home runs and 36 doubles at Class A Stockton and Double-A Midland), for average (.317) and who wasn't afraid to take a walk (97). He ranked fourth in the Minor Leagues in walks -- and that grabbed Beane's attention. The A's moved him to first base with a clear goal in mind. "We felt he hit well enough to be at first, and we had some catching," Beane said. "His hitting will move him quicker. His catching would probably hold him back, and he'd only catch 130 games a year." It also helps that Barton can drive in runs -- 89 in 135 games last year -- and is capable of hitting anywhere in the lineup, though he's used more often in the cleanup spot. "I led off in high school," Barton said. "I might not be the fastest guy, but I like to think I'm a good baserunner. I wouldn't question where I hit. If I can get on base I don't mind if other guys drive me in." And he wouldn't question where he played. He's also appeared in left field and right field in the Minors. "If they needed me, I would do it," he said of catching, which he hasn't done in two years. For now, all A's manager Ken Macha wants to see from Barton, and several of the other top prospects, is to have fun. "Just go out and relax, get some good at-bats and get the butterflies out from being here," Macha said. "He's one of the top prospects in the organization, and I'd like to see him play with confidence and have a goal of making this team in September." The A's were impressed with Barton's approach when his was with the team last year during Spring Training. "He handled himself well," Beane said. "The more experience he gets, the better it serves him. If he hits, we'll find a spot for him."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.