Since the A's offense is still somewhere in California, I figured it would be a good night to introduce AN to a future component of the A's offense for years to come.
I recently had a chance to sit down with a catcher turned first baseman with the great eye for the strike zone. No, not Scott Hatteberg. Daric Barton. He's one of the most intriguing names in the A's organization right now. Billy Beane referred to him in the interview with AN as, "the best pure bat in the minor leagues."
He's proving an uncanny command for the strike zone in only his second professional season with the Stockton Ports. After a very slow start, he has a .412 OBP, which is good for ninth in all of the California League. And he's only 19 years old. He's also hitting .274 with an astounding 45 walks, good for second in the California League.
AN, meet your first baseman of the future, Daric Barton.
Blez: How has this season gone for you thus far?
Daric Barton: It's gone pretty well so far. We're at .500. As a team I think we can do a little better. Our pitching has come around quite a bit these past couple of weeks that's helped us win ballgames. Our offense hasn't really come around yet. But it's a long season and we've got 90 games. We'll be fine.
Blez: How about you individually?
Barton: I think I could do a lot better. I've had a bit of a rough start.
Blez: Do you think the surgery set you back?
Barton: No, I don't think the surgery set me back too much at all. I think it's more of a case of trying to do too much during the first part of the season. I think I was trying too hard and realizing that I can just do what I normally do and not much more than that.
Blez: What was it like going to your first big league camp at 19 years old?
Barton: It was amazing. I grew up watching some of those guys play, like Kotsay, Kendall and Hatteberg. It's amazing how similar we are as ballplayers, but the big difference is their work ethic and time they put in. Everything they do taught me a lot that you can't take anything for granted. You have to work twice as hard once you get there because there's always someone trying to take your job. I learned a lot hanging around those guys.
Blez: You mentioned Kotsay and Kendall. Was there any one player who took you under his wing and kind of showed you the ropes?
Barton: When I first got there I was catching, so Kendall did most of that. He taught me a lot about catching. I'm not catching this year, but if I learned it means that I can pass it along to other catchers. It's pretty much the same thing. He works so hard day in and day out to try on drills to try and get better. So that's the biggest thing I learned from him is to keep working hard.
Blez: How do you feel you're swinging the bat right now?
Barton: It's coming along pretty good right now. I was struggling early as I mentioned before. Right now I'm seeing the ball really well and I'm getting my walks. I'm not hitting the pitches I should be hitting. But it's coming along a lot better than it was before. Now I'm doing as I should do.
Blez: Do you consider yourself a fastball hitter?
Barton: I hit whatever I can. I look more location than pitch. Most of the time I look outside because most of the pitchers try and pitch me outside. I look for something to drive the other way. If they try and sneak one inside I'm going to jump on it. Other than that, I'm trying to hit the ball hard right now and just let the ball do what it does.
Blez: You mentioned your slow start, but your stats are nonetheless very impressive right now. You've got 38 walks and you're in the top 10 in the California League in terms of OBP. You're only 19 years old, but have you always had this patient approach? If you did, you must've given those little league pitchers hell.
Barton: (Laughing) High school I was a little bigger, so my numbers weren't as high as they are now in terms of walks. But knowing the strike zone has always been one of my strengths. The zone has always been a little big, but I can't go out of my way to hit the pitches that are balls, but I get called a lot of strikes that are outside or inside that I was taught don't swing unless it's a strike. I've got to protect, but my eye is one of my biggest strengths.
Blez: Are you ideally more of a pull hitter or do you like to go the opposite way?
Barton: Up until this year, I was pretty much a pull hitter. But now, all I do is go the other way.
Blez: But that's because they're keeping away from you, right?
Barton: Yeah, I forgot what it was like to pull the ball. (laughing) They have been pitching me outside.
Blez: Were all your home runs to the opposite field then? Because that's impressive if that's the case.
Barton: One was to dead center, one was to left and the rest I think were to right center. I'm just trying to bring the ball in a little bit and if they bring it in, I'm going to try and pound it.
Blez: A lot of players talk about thinking too much in the batter's box rather than letting your natural instincts take over and sometimes even overthinking an at-bat. In one of your typical at-bats, do you try and think more or just react? In other words, are you usually trying to think about when you're going to get offspeed as opposed to a fastball?
Barton: When it comes to the mental side of preparing yourself before a game, you've got to know who is pitching that day. Then, you look over what he's done to you in the past. I usually just try and go off what the pitcher has done to me in the past. There are certain counts where I have to look fastball, 2-0, 3-0, but primarily I try to look fastball away and then just adjust to everything else.
Blez: You were talking about counts. A lot of hitters feel pretty uncomfortable hitting with two strikes, I imagine with your approach it isn't too much of a problem for you.
Barton: Two strikes is actually a better hitting count to me because it forces me to shorten up and look to put the ball in play. I try to shorten up and just make solid contact and I know I have a few base hits with two strikes. I also think I concentrate more with two strikes because I don't like striking out at all. Just try to put that ball in play and see what happens.
Blez: You're considered a big reason why Billy Beane was willing to let go of Mark Mulder. What's it like to get traded for a pitcher with the credentials of a Mulder?
Barton: It's just amazing thinking that you were in a trade with a major league player. When I first got traded I was overwhelmed.
Blez: Overwhelmed? In a good way, or a bad way?
Barton: No, in a good way. Just thinking that my name was in the same sentence with a major league pitcher like Mark Mulder, who is an all star. It was just awesome knowing that they think that highly of me. I can only do what I do and they liked me for what I do so I need to continue with it.
Blez: Not only that, but Billy Beane actually referred to you in an interview with Athletics Nation as, "The best pure bat in the minor leagues." Some people have actually used the name Pujols when talking about your potential. Does it make it tougher on you that people have such lofty expectations for you at such a young age?
Barton: I don't think it puts any additional pressure. I think they like me for what my capabilities are and I'm just going out there and trying to do the best I can. The first part of the season I did try to do too much, but now I've calmed down a little bit and I'm just doing what I do and let the numbers come.
Blez: Is there any particular part of your game right now that you're working on improving?
Barton: Everything. I work on everything every day. I take a lot of swings in the cage, work on my tee work and taking a lot of infield (practice). Primarily what I'm working on is my footwork and getting a lot of groundballs during BP. I'm just reading the ball. You know I haven't played much first base.
Blez: That was actually going to be my next question. How has the transition to first base been for you?
Barton: It's been pretty easy. You get ground balls anywhere. I think being a catcher helped me a lot because my eye-hand coordination is a big part of my fielding. I think fielding ground balls has come pretty easy playing first base. It's a fun position. You're in the game a lot. You get a lot of throws and you have to be solid over there so guys don't have to worry about throwing balls in the dirt or up high.
Blez: Do you miss catching?
Barton: Oh yeah, I loved catching.
Blez: Were you bummed when you realized they wanted you to make the switch?
Barton: I don't know about bummed. They need me for what they need me for. Zuke's (Kurt Suzuki) a great catcher. I have no problem with him behind the dish. He's an awesome guy.
Blez: Have you set a timetable as to when you'd like to get to the majors?
Barton: Oh no. If I get there, it's amazing. I'm just going to work hard every day and take it day-by-day. I can't think too far ahead in the future because time flies and I could be out of the game in no time.
Blez: You've been with two organizations already. Talk about the differences in coaching and the approach.
Barton: Well, my strengths are on base and I get a lot of walks. St. Louis we swung a lot and that was a good hitting ballclub. But we work on our patience here, which is good. I think the more guys that are on base, the better the team is going to be. If guys keep walking, it gives other guys opportunities to hit them in and get their numbers up. It's a pretty good organization for me to be in.
Blez: Do you like to consider yourself a home run hitter?
Barton: Not this year too much. I have some power, but I'm more of an average guy. I can hit some home runs, but I'm not too much of a power guy. The power will come though. I focus on hitting line drives and hitting the ball hard.
Blez: I imagine it's a huge change going from high school to pro ball. What has that been like for you?
Barton: My first year I was uncomfortable at first. But hitting with a wood bat is awesome. It teaches players to hit. You get a lot of cheap hits with metal bats. You can only hit well here if you know how to hit.
Blez: It's a weeding out process, I guess.
Barton: Yeah. It was a pretty easy transition for me. I like hitting with the wooden bat better than the metal bat. Everything came to me and I got comfortable my second year, hit pretty well and I just got to keep doing what I'm doing.
Blez: You grew up in Southern California right?
Barton: Yeah, Huntington Beach. My Dad lives in Fountain Valley.
Blez: Has your Dad been a driving influence for you?
Barton: Yeah, both my parents were. They've been really big supporters. They don't let me get big-headed, which is good. I don't want to be known as one of those guys that is known as a hot-head. But you have to be confident up there. If you aren't confident, you aren't going to succeed.
Blez: Was there any consideration of going to college?
Barton: I just wanted to play. I just wanted to get out here and show them what I can do. Later on, if I make it to the major leagues, then I make it to the major leagues. But I'm 19 and I have a while to go before that happens so I'll take it step-by-step and hopefully I'll get there.
Blez: Is it nice being in California again?
Barton: Oh, it's great. The weather is awesome. I can't say too much for the weather in Illinois. But being in California League is great. It's a great atmosphere, there are great fans. It's a great state. I can't say anything more.
Blez: Who was your baseball hero growing up?
Barton: When I was younger, it was Ken Griffey Jr. I loved the way he played the game. He was aggressive and all-out. When I started getting older, I started liking Ivan Rodriguez. He's one of the best catchers in baseball. He's got a cannon (of an arm) and I always wished I had his arm.
Blez: (noticing a scar on his right elbow) Did you have surgery there?
Barton: Yeah, I had an extra muscle that I had to have taken out.
Blez: How long ago?
Barton: January of 03. That set me back a month and a half last year. So I got there a little late.
Blez: Did you have a favorite team?
Barton: I liked the Mariners growing up when they had Randy Johnson, A-Rod and Griffey. Now, I like the Cardinals and just meeting some of those guys and watching their work ethic is just amazing.
Blez: Did you have a chance to talk to Hatteberg at all about the transitino from catcher to first base?
Barton: A little bit. He just said, "Have fun and play the game." He has fun all the time, he plays the game right and plays the game hard. He also succeeds and that's what I'm trying to do is succeed.
Blez: OK, I've got some quick personal questions for you. Favorite movie?
Barton: Dumb and Dumber.
Blez: (laughing) Favorite TV show?
Barton: Probably Baseball Tonight.
Blez: Who is your favorite commentator then? Please, please don't say Kruk.
Barton: No, no. He's funny, but...I don't really have a favorite commentator. They all have their own unbelievable information to give out. It's amazing how much information these guys have in their heads.
Blez: Have you met Gammons yet?
Barton: I did meet Peter Gammons during Spring Training. Very briefly. He's a cool guy. I got introduced to him, but that's all I know.
Blez: Did you know Haren and Calero pretty well?
Barton: Yeah, I knew Danny and Kiko pretty well from last year. I met them a few times and during spring training this year, we hung out a lot. I actually met Jason Kendall when I was in high school. He had a workout and his brother was a scout. And I hung out with him that one day. I was actually surprised he remembered me from that workout.
Blez: He remembered you from that one meeting?
Barton: Yeah from when I was a senior. So that was three years ago. He's a great guy.
Blez: That's pretty impressive. Favorite band?
Barton: Avenged Sevenfold. They're a group out of Huntington Beach. They're a heavy metal group.
Blez: Do you like Korn too? They're from HB.
Barton: Back in the day, I liked their music. My favorite song by Avenged Sevenfold is I Won't See You Tonight, Part 1.
Blez: Favorite book.
Barton: I don't have one, I really don't.
Blez: Have you read Moneyball?
Barton: I've read some of it. I haven't really gotten through the whole book. I don't read many books. I'm not really a reader.
Blez: What about magazines? Have a favorite?
Barton: It's got to be Maxim. That's a great magazine.
Blez: Favorite food?
Barton: It's got to be Mexican food. Definitely Mexican food.
Blez: Burritos or what?
Blez: Carne asada or what?
Barton: Definitely carne asada.
Blez: Favorite female actress and/or model?
Barton: I'd have to say Carmen Electra.
Blez: I guess she sort of covers the actress and model. Favorite video game?
Barton: MVP Baseball 2005.
Blez: You realize you're in it, right? It's only that it isn't your name.
Barton: Someone told me something like that. Really?
Blez: Yeah, I think Baseball America's Top 100 prospects comes up when you're at bat.
Barton: Well, if it's me, it's great. Hopefully he succeeds in the video games.
Blez: It doesn't really look like you though.
Barton: I couldn't imagine it would.
Blez: One last question. Where are you living down here and what has Stockton and the whole Ports experience been like?
Barton: This stadium is great. I'm living in an apartment.
Blez: By yourself?
Barton: With Richie Robnett. There's not much to do in Stockton, so we don't go out very much. I'm not old enough to hit the bars either.
Blez: (laughing) So, you've never been at a bar, right?
Barton: (smiling) Never. Never been to one. I haven't been to one yet.
Blez: Thanks so much for your time today, Daric.
Barton: Not a problem.
The centerpiece of the Athletics offense in 2007? It would appear so.