Hard-working Barney surprising himself

CHICAGO – With a name that’s memorable, a glove that is essentially a vacuum attachment and a growing positive reputation around the league, it’s good to be Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney right now.

There are a number of talented second basemen in the National League these days -- from the Reds’ Brandon Phillips to the Diamondbacks’ Aaron Hill to the Astros’ Jose Altuve. But Barney is getting attention too by earning rave reviews of late, especially for his defense.

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is the latest Barney fan, saying Wednesday that he is impressed with “the second baseman,” as well as intrigued by what he has been hearing that Barney is willing to outwork anybody in the clubhouse in order to be successful.

“It’s always nice when baseball people say good things about you,” Barney said. “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, try to get better and hopefully our defense keeps getting better and better.”

Even after night games, the dark shadowy figure crossing the field long after the lights have been turned off is Barney. He often uses the batting cage under the right-field stands long after fans and teammates have left the ballpark.

But it’s on defense where he has shown the most progress. Barney even added to his highlight reel and Gold-Glove chatter with an improbable defensive play Wednesday.

In the third inning, Marlins speedster Emilio Bonifacio took off toward second base. Barney appeared to be late arriving to the second-base bag as the low throw from catcher Geovany Soto skipped off the infield dirt.

Barney swooped in, though, picked off the ball on the short hop and placed the tag on Bonifacio while falling down. Barney appeared to shout “Oh yeah,” has he raised his glove to umpire Alan Porter, who made the out call.

“I got excited,” Barney admitted. “You get yourself in position to where if you do catch it, you can get the tag on. I was surprised I caught it. It’s one of those fun plays where you can pick up Geo and pick up (pitcher Jeff) Samardzija a little bit and have fun doing it.”

Barney has been just one piece of an improving defensive club as manager Dale Sveum’s emphasis on defense starting in spring training has paid off quickly.

“I think when we started all this in spring training, most of the emphasis was on the preparation of defense and understanding or making the players aware and accountable of the things that really go wrong on a pitching staff because of defenses,” Sveum said. “That means the pitch counts, needless errors, missing cut off men, losing the chance at double plays, you’re talking about multiple pitches that a pitcher will throw. And they bought into it.”

Despite entering play Wednesday with a NL-leading .998 fielding percentage (one error in 403 total chances), his chances of winning a Gold Glove still aren’t good. And that’s with not committing an error in 77 consecutive games, through Wednesday's contest.

Despite the hard work and his success, though, Barney admits to shocking himself on occasion.

“You work hard but this game is still not easy,” Barney said. “Plays like that, you put yourself in the right position and you’re almost guessing where the ball’s going to bounce. I was a little surprised myself on that one.”

Barney probably will need another season of solid defense, as well as a little offense to go with it, to raise his profile. The Gold Glove Award is one of baseball’s biggest popularity contests.