Position: C Height: 6-0 Weight: 205 Born: 8/16/85 Bats: Left Throws: Right
I had several requests recently for a full profile on Cardinals catching prospect Daric Barton, so I thought that would make a good "please the readers" article for Christmas Eve. Then he got traded to the Athletics in the Mark Mulder deal, just like Dan Meyer, my topic last week, did after the article I had planned for him was already half-written. We're not trying to turn Down on the Farm into the Athletics Prospect Report. It has just turned out that way with these trades. Anyhow, Daric Barton was St. Louis' first-round draft pick in 2003, out of high school in Huntington Beach, Calif. He was thought to be one of the best pure hitters available in the class, but worries about his defense dropped him to the end of the first round, 28th overall. Barton devastated Midwest League pitching this year, solidifying his status as one of the best hitting prospects in the game.
All scouting reports on Daric Barton begin with his bat. He has explosive bat speed, with a sweet swing that has just a touch of loft to it. He can and will hit to the opposite field, but will also destroy pullable pitches. He has no real weakness as a hitter. One Midwest League pitcher told me this summer that Barton was basically impossible to pitch to; he could hit anything you threw at him, and never reached for a pitch outside the strike zone. His plate discipline is excellent, and his strikeout rate is very low for a young power hitter. Defense is another issue. Barton is a big guy, not fat, but not especially athletic or mobile. His arm is OK, but his release is slow and he is not very good at controlling the running game and probably never will be. He has some leadership skills with pitchers, but he doesn't block pitches especially well. This is not for lack of effort; his work ethic is excellent. But athletically, he is simply stretched at catcher. He doesn't run well enough to be an outfielder, and will probably end up at first base eventually. This may be part of the reason the Cardinals traded him, but his bat was too good for Oakland to pass up.
There are, literally, no flaws in Barton's hitting performance. He hits for average and power, draws lots of walks, and doesn't strike out very much. In 144 career games, he has drawn 106 walks with only 92 strikeouts. Plate discipline like that is rare in a major leaguer, let alone a minor league guy. Given a normal growth curve, Barton projects as a .290-plus hitter with more than 20 homers a season, gobs of walks, and an excellent on-base percentage. That is a conservative estimate.
Barton has had no serious health concerns. While he's had his share of bumps and bruises any catcher must face, it has had no effect, so far, on his hitting. Young Catcher Offensive Stagnation Syndrome is always a risk: many young catchers fail to develop their hitting skills as well as expected. But so far this has not been a problem for Barton.
What to expect
Barton fits Oakland's philosophy perfectly. He's not the best athlete in the world, but he is an excellent hitter. Finding him a position to play will be the first step. The Athletics already have several catching prospects with superior defensive skills, particularly Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell. It is doubtful either of them will be relegated to bench duty so Barton can catch. Barton may end up at first base, or perhaps even DH. While many clubs loathe relegating a young bat to the DH role so early, Barton is such a good hitter that it may be a waste of his skill to use him in any role BUT DH. He has a special bat, and it should be treated that way.
John Sickels is the author of The 2005 Baseball Prospect Book. The book ships on Feb. 1, and can be ordered only at Johnsickels.com. He is also the author of Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, which can be ordered online or at your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas and two happy cats.