Following in Rynos footsteps, Barney wins Gold Glove

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Following in Rynos footsteps, Barney wins Gold Glove

Darwin Barney has entertained teammates by doing backflips like Ozzie Smith, a trick he learned as a kid in gymnastics.

Barney was smart enough to start out on a pre-dental track at Oregon State University before he realized he should major in baseball and helped the Beavers win back-to-back College World Series titles.

Barney had pretty much played shortstop his entire life until he saw Starlin Castro make the leap over him in May 2010, directly from Double-A Tennessee to The Show.

So Barney went to work at second base at Triple-A Iowa with Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, the last Cub to win a Gold Glove at that position (nine straight between 1983 and 1991). Barney may not be at the beginning of that kind of run, but he has forced his way into the potential team picture for 2015, or whenever the Cubs are good again.

Winning a Gold Glove on Tuesday only reinforced the belief that Barney should be a core player in Theo Epsteins future plans.

Ryno meant a lot when Starlin got called up, Barney said. Ryno was really one of the guys that kept me confident in my ability and the fact that theres a spot for me in the big leagues some day.

Barneys mix of athleticism, intelligence and intangibles proved to be a good match for Dale Sveums program. The managers stronger emphasis on breaking down video and analyzing spray charts helped put Barney in position to win this award.

By going 141 consecutive games at second base without an error, Barney tied the major-league, single-season record held by Placido Polanco. Barney probably needed a big number like that to grab the attention of National League managers and coaches.

Brandon Phillips thinks hes the best defensive second baseman in the game just ask him and had won the past two Gold Gloves, and three within the previous four seasons.

Barney beat out finalists Phillips (Cincinnati Reds) and Aaron Hill (Arizona Diamondbacks). The Fielding Bible had already recognized Barney for saving 28 runs the most by a major-league second baseman by a wide margin which shows you can be a game-changer defensively.

Barney isnt one to beat his chest. He downplayed the Phillips question, showing the diplomatic skills that should make him a clubhouse leader in the years to come.

You dont expect to pass a guy like Brandon Phillips, Barney said. Hes exceptional at what he does. I cant sit here and say that Im better than him or anything like that. I dont think it has anything to do with that. I had a good season, and I think either one of us could have won it.

Barney led all second basemen in the majors with a .997 fielding percentage, committing only two errors in 731 total chances covering 1,270.1 innings. His 3.6 defensive win above replacement rating led all players in the National League.

I felt like the transition would happen eventually, (but) I didnt think it would be as smooth as it was, Barney said. You always hope that its not the last (Gold Glove, that its) the first of some or many. But for me, Im just going to enjoy this, because you never know if it will happen again.

At the end of the season, while the Philadelphia Phillies promoted Sandberg to their coaching staff for 2013, the Cubs didnt renew Pat Listachs contract. The third-base coach had been responsible for studying video, going over scouting reports and positioning infielders before each pitch, but Sveum had his own ideas.

I wouldnt say bittersweet, Barney said. Theres a place for Pat at the big-league level somewhere, and its going to happen real soon. Im not worried about him at all.

Generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Barney knew that a job wouldnt be handed to him. He understood that he would have to fight for it. With Castro at his side, Barney thinks the Cubs could one day have the best middle infield around.

Its been a long path, Barney said. (But) you cant be satisfied. Winning a Gold Glove doesnt necessarily satisfy me for the future, (but it) makes me hungry to try and get another one some day.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."