Barton No Longer Flies Under Radar

Brian Barton at the University of Miami.

For the second straight season, minor-league outfielder Brian Barton is putting up impressive numbers. He has hit .320 with 18 homers, 76 runs, 71 RBI and 37 stolen bases combined at Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron this year. "He's not only put himself on the radar, but separated himself from higher drafted players," said John Farrell, the Indians' director of player development.

The following feature story is reprinted from the June 2006 issue of Indians Ink Magazine -- which gave a preview of things to come. Each month, the magazine covers Tribe prospects as well as the big-league club.

Brian Barton's baseball career is off to a flying start.

That probably comes as a distinct surprise to all those teams who completely ignored the outfielder during the 2004 draft.

A general misconception two years ago about the 6-foot-3, 190-pound outfielder turned into a bit of good fortune for the Indians, who signed Barton in August of 2004 -- then enjoyed watching his first pro season a year ago when he hit .326 with seven homers, 64 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 99 games.

"Coming out of the University of Miami, I think there were some questions about whether he wanted to begin a pro baseball career at the time or go back and finish an aeronautical engineering degree," explained John Farrell, the Indians' director of player development. "We were aware of him and followed him in the Cape Cod League that summer. He's a guy that we made an effort to bring into the organization.

"He started last season behind others because of a head-first slide in spring training that jammed his shoulder. There was some rehab in extended spring training, but his numbers at Lake County speak for him. What is most encouraging is that he continued to hit against faster-paced competition at Kinston."

Barton hit .414 with four homers, 32 RBI and seven steals in 35 games for the Captains to earn a promotion. In 64 games at Kinston, he hit .274 with 15 doubles, six triples, three homers, 32 RBI and 13 steals. He showed good defensive instincts while playing at all three spots in the outfield.

"The most important thing was I was really having fun and living out my dream," said Barton, who turned 24 in April.

"I guess there was a lot of uncertainty about whether I was going to play baseball or not," he explained. "At the time of the draft, there were a lot of people talking for me instead of allowing myself to go out and show what I can do. It was just an unfortunate situation, but now I've got an opportunity to play and I'm just trying to run with it.

"You always have to have a backup plan and being an engineering major, I think I've got a good one. I think a lot of people might have figured that I my career was going in that direction and eventually it may do that. But I'm a baseball player now and hopefully for a long time."

In two years of college ball, Barton showed good speed and a solid batting stroke without a lot of power. In 59 games in 2003, he batted .330 with seven homers, 54 RBI and 17 steals in 24 attempts. In 57 games the next year, he hit .371 with six homers, 46 RBI and again went 17-for-24 in steal attempts.

"A lot of people don't know that I went to Miami to play baseball and playing baseball at the professional level has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid," he said. "Now I have the opportunity and I'm going to try to do my best."

Barton grew up playing the game in Los Angeles, where his heroes were not members of the high-priced Dodgers or Angels, but guys he knew playing sandlot ball.

"My parents and my friends in the neighborhood all helped me learn the game," he said. "My brother and I used to play with a ball made out of aluminum foil in the back yard. There are little ways that you learn the game just by going out and playing and having a lot of fun. That's the key, having fun.

"I played some football and ran track in high school, but my bread and butter was baseball. The guys I looked up to weren't major leaguers, but the guys in my neighborhood who were good players. Those were the guys I admired because we were out there having fun and those guys could play."

The days of trying to hit a tiny ball of rolled-up tin foil are gone and Barton said that he approaches the game these days with a grim determination to succeed. But he's also very much aware of what got him this far and that is having fun while playing.

"I'm just trying to pinpoint my weaknesses and work on them," he said. "As long as I'm not batting a thousand, I know there is room for improvement. I want to become a more dangerous hitter in every situation.

"In any given moment, a pitcher can find a weakness and exploit it. I want to be in command at the plate and not let them find some way they can get me out. I look at things the same way in the field. I want to work and get better all the time."

Barton said he really enjoyed his first year as a professional player despite encountering the usual drawbacks experienced by players in the lower levels of minor-league ball.

"Towards the end of last year, it got to be a little wearing," he admitted. "The weather got real hot in August and there were some long bus rides. You try not to let it get the best of you and it is tough. It drains your mind more than your body.

"I took a little break over the winter, not so much because the season was so physically demanding, but I wanted to take time to enjoy my family. I worked out, stayed in shape, but was able to relax and come to training camp with a clear mind."

He still intends to become an engineer and even thinks about taking up flying.

"I'm not real savvy about architecture or anything, but I have an appreciation for ball fields and stadiums," he said.

"I've always had different interests. When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut. I like learning about different things and the more I learn the more it kind of triggers a spark in me for more knowledge. I've never really done any flying, although in the off-season, I've considered taking flying lessons. It's about timing, I guess. I've been occupied with going to school and now with my baseball career."

Barton believes this season will be key for his career and he intends to focus all his energy into having another good year.

"The second year is supposed to be your hardest," he said. "I want to avoid the sophomore jinx and stay focused all year.

"I know I've got a long, long way to go and that drives me because I always want to improve and get better at anything I do. But that's especially true in baseball because now it is my career."

He said he doesn't consciously concern himself with being overlooked in the draft and use it a particular motivation device. But he said he definitely wants to prove to himself that he can fulfill his childhood dream of being a pro player.

"I've always been in situations where people kind of doubt if I have what it takes to play at a certain level," he said. "Each time I have proved that I can play. It is not that I have anything against anybody. It is their job to make a judgment. I don't feel I really have anything to prove to anybody but myself.

"The important thing is to have fun. From Little League to the majors, it's about having fun, playing the game and getting better.

"I really love this game, whether some people understand that or not."

_________________________________________________

MONDAY'S MINOR MATTERS

Class AAA Buffalo (65-57) won at Pawtucket, 4-3. Jon Van Every (.227) hit a solo homer, his third with the Bisons and 13th of the season overall. Ben Francisco (.276) had two hits and an RBI. Rob Bell (9-8, 3.96 ERA) struck out seven over eight innings, allowing one run on five hits and a walk. Edward Mujica (1.80) gave up three hits and two runs in the ninth but got his third save.

Class AA Akron (74-46) was not scheduled. Second baseman Eider Torres hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games, going 15-for-54 (.278); outfielder Brian Barton has batted .361 (30-for-83) with five homers and 14 RBI over his last 23 games; and infielder Jared Sandberg has a .321 (9-for-28) average with 11 RBI in his last nine games.

Class A Kinston (29-21, 47-23) scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and defeated Salem, 12-10. Jordan Brown (.293) went 4-for-5 with three runs, three RBI and a two-run homer, his 14th, and Stephen Head (.227) hit a three-run homer, his 14th. Jose Constanza (.322) went 3-for-6 with a run and three RBI. Kinston totaled 18 hits. Kyle Collins (3-0, 1.32 ERA) got the win despite allowed two runs (one earned) over the final 1 1/3 innings. Starter Chuck Lofgren (2.53) allowed four hits over 5 2/3 innings.

Class A Lake County (26-21, 29-41) defeated visiting Hickory, 7-2. Chris Gimenez (.255) went 2-for-5 with two runs, two RBI and a solo homer, his 10th. Nick Petrucci (.211) went 3-for-4 with two RBI, while P.J. Hiser (.275) had two hits, one run and one RBI and Mike Butia (.303) had two hits and scored once. Doodle Hicks (2-0, 5.00 ERA) gave up two runs over 5 1/3 innings to get the win in relief of J.D. Martin (4.20), who fanned five over three innings, allowing one hit and one walk.

Class A Mahoning Valley (30-24) defeated visiting Tri-City in 11 innings, 6-5. Andy Lytle (.303) reached on an error and got to third with two outs. He scored on a suicide squeeze bunt by Jason Denham (.319). Josh Roberts (.211) had tied the score by hitting a solo homer, his second, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Earlier, Jared Goedert (.283) hit a three-run homer, his third. Hart Hering (2-2, 2.57 ERA) pitched three scoreless innings for the win after Matt Meyer (1.88) struck out three over two perfect innings. Starter Josh Tomlin (2.39 ERA) allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits over 4 2/3 innings, striking out six. Andy Woods (5.52) struck out two over 1 1/3 scoreless.

Rookie League Burlington (27-26) lost at Elizabethton, 9-5. Jansy Infante (.308) drove in three runs with two hits including a two-run homer, his first. Trevor Mortensen (.255) also had two hit and a run while Enrique Vasquez went 1-for-1 with two RBI. Alexis De La Rosa (0-1) gave up five runs over 4 1/3 innings and took the loss.

GCL Indians (20-24) were not scheduled. Outfielder Lucas Montero has hit .306 (19-for-62) over his last 15 games; infielder Jay Nilsson has 13 RBI in his last 14 games, hitting .362 (17-for-47) and outfielder Roman Pena has hit .375 (9-for-24) over his last six games.

TODAY'S FARM SYSTEM THREE STARS (HITTING)

PLAYER

TEAM

AB

H

HR

R

RBI

SB

BB

SO

1. J. Brown

Kinston

5

4

1

3

3

0

0

0

2. C. Gimenez

Lake County

4

2

1

2

2

0

0

1

3a. J. Constanza

Kinston

6

3

0

1

3

0

0

2

3b. N. Petrucci

Lake County

4

3

0

0

2

0

0

0


TODAY'S FARM SYSTEM THREE STARS (PITCHING)

PLAYER

Team

W

L

SV

IP

ER

H

BB

SO

1. R. Bell

Buffalo

1

0

0

8.0

1

5

1

7

2. J. Martin

Lake County

0

0

0

3.0

0

1

1

5

3a. H. Hering

Mahoning Valley

1

0

0

3.0

0

3

1

3

3b. M. Meyer

Mahoning Valley

0

0

0

2.0

0

0

0

3

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