ST. LOUIS – The Cubs are riding out Emilio Bonifacio’s hot streak while waiting for Javier Baez to burst onto the scene. That leaves Darwin Barney in an awkward spot.
The Gold Glove second baseman became a bench player again on Friday night at Busch Stadium. Let the St. Louis Cardinals deal with Bonifacio, who began the day tied for the major-league lead with 19 hits. The “Lo Viste” leadoff guy also had a .500 on-base percentage and seven stolen bases, or two more than anyone else in baseball.
Barney will have to wait for the chance to show he can still be a core player alongside shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, an idea that sounded realistic at this time last year, given his elite defensive skills and natural leadership abilities.
“He’s dealing in a situation right now where he sees the landscape,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He kind of sees what’s going on. He’s trying to do everything he can to make sure he maintains himself. We use him sometimes in double-switches. We use him in other situations right now. But he continues to work hard. He’s still doing what he’s always done.”
Barney actually rewired his offensive game after hitting .208 last season, trying to mesh with ex-manager Dale Sveum’s philosophy, the top-down organizational message and a hitting program that got an offseason overhaul.
The front office liked the way Barney swung the bat in spring training, getting back to where he felt most comfortable. He’s seeing 4.29 pitches per plate appearance, walking six times and putting up a .429 on-base percentage.
Baez is still on the horizon as Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect. The Triple-A Iowa shortstop still needs to mature and get some more exposure to second base. The service-time considerations will be taken into account. But a midsummer promotion would make sense.
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Leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, a National League contender might value Barney’s slick fielding and versatility. A powerful American League lineup could give him some cover. His intangibles would play well in October. He’s 28 years old and under club control through 2016, making this a possible turning point in his career.
Renteria is trying to keep everyone happy while juggling a roster filled with multiple utility guys, role players and unproven big-leaguers. The manager’s riding the hot hand and analyzing the numbers – and hoping that doesn’t backfire in the clubhouse.
“I think they’ve been maintaining their positive-ness throughout the whole process,” Renteria said. “It’s still really early in the season and things kind of shake out and play themselves out.”