In a gloomy season on the North Side of Chicago, many point to rookie second baseman Darwin Barney (in addition to Starlin Castro and Matt Garza) as a bright spot.
Barney's ability to hit for average near the top of the order (not that he belongs there, Mike Quade) and adequately field second base have drawn praise, and the consensus among fans and analysts seems to be that Barney fits into the Cubs' future puzzle. He may even be a key piece.
I rise in objection.
Let's deconstruct the things for which Barney has garnered so much attention:
He ranks among the top five NL rookies in several offensive categories, including hits and batting average.
Well that's easy enough to dismiss: Batting average means almost nothing, and counts of hits mean even less. Furthermore, this is a badly weak rookie class. Other than a pair of first basemen in Freddie Freeman and Jesus Guzman, there is no real offensive threat among big-league neophytes.
His defense at second base has been quite good.
Of course it has. For one thing, he was given his chance for just that reason. He's a glove guy. For another, second base is where failed shortstops and third basemen go. Barney should not be playing there, because he's a better defensive shortstop than Starlin Castro, but with the city gaga over this middle infield, Mike Quade has little choice. In the meantime, let's not act like finding a no-stick, good-glove second baseman is akin to hitting the mother lode.
He is a winner. He's always been a winner. He won in high school and college.
Yawn. Stupid. Next.
He'll get much better, too. He's a rookie, after all.
Yes, he's a rookie. He's a 25-year-old rookie who backed into his job because Blake DeWitt had a bad spring. Barney's ceiling is not way up above his head. He's hitting his head on it right now.
Look, I like Darwin Barney. I'm very tired of trashing him in public. But I have to keep doing it, because Cubs fans are missing the mark so badly. Barney is NOT a future two hitter. His value is defensive, and in order to maximize it, he needs to play shortstop.
Castro could move to third base next year; that shift might even be good for him. It has to happen in the next three to five years, so what's a couple sooner? It makes Aramis Ramirez expendable and improves the left side of the Cubs infield by perhaps 20 runs defensively.
I would adore Darwin Barney as a shortstop and eighth batter. But Cubs fans must stop their exultation of him as a table-setter (.335 OBP career in the minors, .322 as a Cub) or any kind of offensive contributor, because Barney is simply not a good hitter.
He's a slap hitter who can hit the prettiest, easiest, emptiest .280 to .285 you'll ever see, but those numbers will still be empty. He is what he is: a part-time asset, or a good glove guy for the very bottom of the batting order.
Letting themselves believe anything else is a good way for Cubs fans to get fooled by yet another middle-infield prospect.