Behind the plate, the Cubs have the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year in Geovany Soto. At shortstop, they have one of the most exciting young players (and the youngest starter overall) in the majors in Starlin Castro. And at second base, they have Rookie of the Year candidate ... Darwin Barney?
Back in February, the plan for 2011 was for Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt to platoon at second. Darwin Barney, on the other hand, was set to battle Augie Ojeda and Bobby Scales for the role of backup infielder. DeWitt, however, hit .186 in spring training while Barney tore the cover off the ball. Barney got the start on Opening Day and went 2-for-4 with a run scored. Baker got a few starts early on as well, but halfway through April, Barney was batting .333 with eight runs and five RBI.
The platoon was shut down until further notice, and rightly so: Barney would go on to become the National League's Rookie of the Month for April (either Mets 2B Justin Turner or Nationals 2B Danny Espinosa will likely grab the honor for May). For the season, Barney leads all qualified NL rookies in hits, runs scored and average, and has significantly fewer strikeouts than other rookie standouts such as the Braves' Freddie Freeman and Espinosa. Barney is in the top 15 in batting average among all National Leaguers.
There's no doubt that Barney has forced himself onto the Rookie of the Year radar. It won't be easy for him to take the trophy, however, given that he's a singles hitter and his power numbers like won't stack up well against other candidates. Don't completely discount him, though: in 2009, Chris Coghlan took the honor by banging out 162 hits, just nine of which were home runs. Barney is on pace for about 180 hits.
It's been a slow year thus far for rookies (only five ML rookies have eclipsed the 20 RBI mark, and only Espinosa has surpassed 30), and Darwin Barney has quickly made a name for himself despite the fact that, just a couple months ago, he was expected to be on a bench or on a AAA bus at this time. There haven't been a ton of bright spots for the Cubs this season, but Barney is certainly one of them.
Most importantly, If he keeps this up his whole career, he just might make a winner out of my friend Brian Brennan, who bet mutual friend Trevor Sierra that within the next 15 years, "Charles Darwin Barney" will be the answer to a before-and-after style Jeopardy question. We make weird bets.