Trade put Barton on fast track
Move to Oakland from St. Louis opened up multiple avenues
DETROIT -- Coach Von Hayes laughed Sunday when the name Daric Barton was brought up -- for about the 100th time -- prior to the All-Star Futures Game between the U.S. and World squads at Comerica Park.
"If you and I were talking back in February during Spring Training, I probably would have walked away from the interview," said the ex-Major Leaguer, the manager at Double-A Midland.
Sure, the 19-year-old Barton was one of the finest high school players in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, but his defense seemed shaky and the catcher-first base-outfield-wherever prospect had right arm problems and appendicitis to boot.
But that was then.
The unlikely centerpiece of the St. Louis swap of pitchers Dan Haren and Kiko Calero for Athletics' starter Mark Mulder last December, Barton has developed quickly and reached an apex to his fast-track career by being named to the U.S. roster in the Futures contest.
"The last few months in the Cal League, this kid's a completely different hitter," said Hayes. "I hate to throw this at him, but he reminds me of Tony Gwynn. As long as he doesn't try to hit home runs and stays in the gaps, he's going to have a nice career."
To say Barton has been stunned by the accolades and promise is an understatement.
"It's an honor to be on this team," said the Huntington Beach, Calif., native, whom the A's virtually demanded to be part of Mulder trade. "It was awesome to be mentioned with Mark Mulder in the same sentence, and being the key [to the trade] was awesome."
The real question is not how Barton will eventually play for the Oakland A's -- the youngster seems a born batsman -- but when and where.
The long-time catcher is a first sacker now and was recently promoted from Class A Stockton to the Midland RockHounds. While Hayes reports Barton is being polished as a first baseman, finding the best position is a dilemma.
"If I was still with St. Louis, I'd probably be in the outfield somewhere, and with Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, I didn't know if I'd have a chance there," said Barton, who struck out in his lone plate appearance Sunday but played flawless defense in the World team's 4-0 victory over the U.S.
Barton chuckled he had to "beg" to see a mere one inning behind the plate this season at Stockton, where he hit .318 with a .438 on-base percentage.
"I gave up two hits, one with a broken bat," said Barton. "But I didn't give up any runs, so I have a perfect catcher's ERA."
But that batting average is hot. He played five games for Midland before heading to the Futures Game, batting a lusty .563 with a 1.000 slugging percentage and a .611 OBP.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.