I wouldn’t say Darwin Barney and I are best friends or anything, but I did meet him once. So… Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
Needless to say, I horribly embarrassed myself as I tried to stammer my way through conversing with one of my favorite athletes of all time. I remember wanting to say, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, I’m a huge fan and I really appreciate everything you’ve done in bringing Oregon State two national championships.”
I can’t remember exactly what I did end up saying so I’ll just quickly paraphrase it. I believe it went something like, “Hey it’s cool that you got drafted by the Chicago Cubs, cause you’re my favorite player and they’re my favorite Major League team, and now you get to play for them, and that’s really ironic right?”
It was horrible and all I wanted to do was run away and hide. Unfortunately, the moment happened, but that’s not where our connection ends. In August of 2010, I ended up buying (expensive!) tickets to see the San Francisco Giants play the Cubs and somehow managed to watch Barney’s MLB debut. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for me and my best friend Darwin (ok, I get it, it’s starting to sound a little weird, my bad).
Ever since that day, I’ve followed Darwin’s Cubs career very closely since day one. I was literally there when he was promoted, I was watching when he shocked the Chicago organization and beat out Jeff Baker and Blake Dewitt for the starting second base job in 2011, and I was campaigning for him when he won his first (of hopefully many) Gold Glove awards.
Barney has improved every year in the league and I’d tell you all about the ways he’s been one of the most consistent members of the Cubs for the past few seasons, but this isn’t Illinois Sports News, so … Instead I’ll just tell you why he’s going to be one of the best second basemen in the National League this year.
Darwin obviously has already proven he’s one of the best second basemen in the league when it comes to his defense. Last year, he not only broke Ryne Sandberg’s National League 123 game record without an error, but he also tied the Major League record of 141 games. In fact, he came within three outs of breaking the record. Fielding will not be his weakness this year.
If Barney is going to prove that he belongs in the discussion for best second basemen, he needs to add some more consistent hitting to his game. In a short 30 game stint during the 2010 season, he only hit for a .241 average (although that was only in 79 at-bats). Then after raising the bar in 2011 to the tune of a .276 BA, he declined pretty heavily in his 2012 campaign, all the way down to a .254 average, hardly what you’re expecting for from your starting second baseman (although he did more than double his homerun output … from 2 to 7 … that counts, right?)
Barney’s defense has carried him thus far in his career, more than making up for the dismal offensive output. He’s also been largely helped by the fact that the Cubs have been nowhere near contention since his debut. It’s a lot easier to skate by with some weaknesses in your game when, in comparison to the rest of your roster, you’re practically a hall of famer.
Despite the offensive struggles, Darwin is still in the tops of his class in the National League, where some of the best second basemen reside in his own division. Barney has already taken plenty of advice from Cincinnati Reds second basemen Brandon Phillips and he’d be wise to try to duplicate his offensive success as well.
I think that we’re looking at a make or break season for Darwin Barney. He can show the Cubs organization he’s not just the second basemen of the present, but the man for the future as well. Someone who can help the Cubs rebuild their team and help lead the younger players as well.
And I honestly believe this is the year he shows everyone, not just Cubs fans, that he’s a force to be reckoned with. His offense will improve, his defense will continue to be the best and maybe, just maybe, we could be looking at a man that could lead Chicago to their first championship in over a hundred years. What? I can dream, can’t I?
Steve Emerson is on Twitter. Follow him at @stevelikesports