The minor leagues are a struggle for survival. No matter how strong and fast you are, if you don't adapt and evolve your game, you won't make it to the big leagues. Darwin Barney isn't the most impressive of physical specimens, yet somehow he has managed to stick around. As an amateur, there was serious doubt as to whether he was a future major leaguer. He wasn't particularly athletic, nor was he considered a particularly good hitter.
Still, the Cubs saw a little bit of Ryan Theriot in Barney. He's the kind of grinder who always seems to find himself on winning teams. His Oregon State teams won consecutive World Series championships in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, his first full season as a pro, his Class A Daytona team won the Florida State League title. By 2009 he had been promoted to AAA Iowa, a team that finished with the best record in the Pacific Coast League.
In 2011, Barney may be on the verge of winning something even bigger: A job as a major league starting second baseman....
While everyone has been focused on Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker, Barney has quietly had a tremendous spring, hitting .371 and more importantly, getting on base and playing outstanding defense. Of all the Cubs middle infielders in camp, Barney is the best defensively. Now that he has evolved as a hitter, he has the Cubs thinking twice about who should be starting at 2B on opening day. Mike Quade recently said that Barney is "not necessarily a utility guy".
So what kind of player is Darwin Barney?
Like Theriot, he's not flashy. He isn't going to wow you with his physical tools. What Barney has is the most mysterious, non-quantifiable commodity in baseball -- instincts. Barney just has a knack for the game. He has not just survived as the competition has gotten stronger, he has actually thrived on it. He has become better as he has moved up the organizational ladder. That he manages to do this despite having lesser talent than many of his peers is truly remarkable. How does he do it?
Quite simply, he adapts. His range is not spectacular, but he makes up for it with intelligence. He knows the hitters and their tendencies. He understands how the pitcher is attacking the hitter -- and he positions himself accordingly. His arm is considered average, but he gets rid of it so quickly that it plays above average. His hitting, once considered his biggest weakness, has also improved since he's made the adjustments of shortening his stroke and using the entire fields.
If Darwin Barney wins the second base job this spring, it won't be because he's the fastest or the strongest guy out there. Fortunately for him, that isn't always what determines success in the game of baseball. Whether it comes to individual or team competition, Barney always seems to find a way to be the last guy standing.