Slick-fielding Barney hoping to repeat 2012 success
Second baseman won Gold Glove, set fielding records in second full pro season
MESA, Ariz. -- Taped on the wall next to Darwin Barney's locker at HoHoKam Stadium is a chart. There are several boxes to check off for at-bats, hits, walks, stolen bases. The Cubs' second baseman is keeping track of his and center fielder David DeJesus' spring stats.
"Hopefully I get a walk today," Barney said prior to Monday's game against the Dodgers. "I need to even out the column."
Barney did just that, going 1-for-2 with a walk and a run in the Cubs' 7-6 loss. DeJesus will start Tuesday and try to catch up.
Barney likes the competition. Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk challenges the second baseman when he hits him fungoes every day during batting practice.
"Last year's over, pardner," Quirk barked last Thursday before starting the Cubs' first workout at HoHoKam Stadium. "Let's get to work."
Their drills paid off in 2012. Barney won his first National League Gold Glove, committing two errors in 155 games at second base for a .997 fielding percentage. It's the first Gold Glove for a Cubs position player since first baseman Derrek Lee won one in 2007, and the first for a Cubs second baseman since Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg won his ninth in 1991.
The award didn't go unnoticed. Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who had won the NL Gold Glove at second base three times in the previous four years, was miffed he didn't receive the honor.
"They picked who they picked," Phillips told Reds reporters earlier this spring when asked about being snubbed from the All-Star Game and Gold Glove. "Do I feel I should have gotten both of those things? Of course. I feel like I'm one of the best second basemen in the game. I'm at least in the top three. I can't make people vote for me on the All-Star team. I can't make myself win the Gold Glove, even though I should have. When I didn't win, I was surprised. I wasn't mad at all, but surprised. I thought I got punk'd."
Barney has moved on. He wears Wilson gloves, and the 27-year-old got to design his own this year. There is no gold on it.
"We don't have gold in our [team] colors," he explained.
Barney had two models made with the Cubs' blue trim -- one for himself and another for shortstop Starlin Castro, who wanted to have the same design. If a player wins a Gold Glove and they wear Rawlings' gloves (the sponsor of the Gold Glove Awards), they get a gold patch. Barney said he didn't need that.
"People know," he said. "We don't need to remind them."
Barney's fielding percentage set a Cubs record for a single season by a second baseman, topping Sandberg's previous high of .995 set in 1991. Barney played 141 error-free games, tying a Major League single-season record for second basemen set in 2007 by Placido Polanco. Barney was three outs away from setting the mark before he was charged with a throwing error in the eighth inning Sept. 28 against the Diamondbacks.
The Cubs infielder does own the NL mark for consecutive errorless games at second (allowing for multiple seasons), surpassing Sandberg's 123-game streak. David Eckstein had the previous NL single-season mark of 113 consecutive games, set in 2010 with San Diego.
"Last year was one of those years, you know you're not going to have another one like it -- history shows that," Barney said. "For me now, it's going back to basics. I always try to start with the basics. There's always the fear of failure that drives someone, and that's kind of what I've fed off of. First few weeks, I was kind of pulling up on a ball that was right at me. I'm focused on that kind of stuff and trying to get better every day. One good season doesn't mean the next one is just going to happen."
The Cubs would like to see more from Barney offensively, which is why he spent one week in Mesa last November with manager Dale Sveum, hitting coach James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rob Deer. Barney hit .254 with a .299 on-base percentage and a .354 slugging percentage last season. He did hit a career-high seven home runs with 26 doubles, but he knows there's room for improvement.
"I made some big adjustments with my mechanics," he said of his swing. "I'm being stronger through the zone and not pulling off at all, and not being satisfied with sliding my hands through the zone and just shooting the ball the other way."
Sveum has said he feels Barney can improve his offensive numbers.
"I agree 100 percent," Barney said. "I think I haven't tapped into my potential yet. I had some mechanical flaws where I was kind of sliding through and my bat was lagging, and I was trying to hit some balls the other way constantly and not drive the ball anywhere. You can still hit line drives and drive the ball. That's something I'm changing my mindset on. We'll see how it goes."
Sandberg, now the Phillies' third-base coach, was a key part of Barney's development as the infielder's Minor League manager for three seasons in the Cubs' farm system. Barney was a shortstop at Triple-A Iowa and was passed over in May 2010 when the Cubs decided to promote Castro from Double-A Tennessee to the big leagues. Barney continued to play short for Iowa, but he and Sandberg would practice every day at second.
Is Barney aiming for another Gold Glove this year?
"That's our goal as a defensive player to win a Gold Glove," he said. "That's obviously not our team goal. If I win a Gold Glove, I'm helping the team. If I don't and I still play good defense, I'm helping the team. We're looking for team success here. That's our main focus."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.