When Jeremy Barfield broke spring training and received his assignment to Double-A Midland, he was prepared to spend the entire season there given the talent above him in the outfield on the organizational depth chart.
"I mentally prepared myself this year that I was going to be in Midland for the entire year," Barfield said. "If that changes, that would be an awesome surprise. Midland isn't an awesome park to hit at, but sure enough I hit seven home runs there. If I can do that in Midland, then who knows what I can do in a hitter-friendly league."
And get to a hitter-friendly league he did. Barfield was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento on May 8, moving up a level during the season for the first time since he was drafted in the eighth round by the A's in 2008. The outfielder is off to a nice start with two home runs in nine games, after hitting eight to start the season with the RockHounds.
As a hitter, Barfield had been known as a free swinger needing to work on his plate discipline. In 2009 through 2012, Barfield's walk rate decreased as he ascended through the minor league levels. But through a series of physical and mental adjustments, Barfield nearly doubled walk rate in his first 26 games with Midland to 12.3 percent from 6.6.
"Now, you see a much better, more disciplined hitter with a lot of power," River Cats manager Steve Scarsone said. "He's putting the ball in the play. Overall, I like the progression he's seen here."
The relationship between Scarsone and Barfield dates back to 2009 when they were both with Low-A Kane County. Since then, the duo has risen through the minor leagues together at each stop from Stockton to Midland, and now Sacramento. The first month of this season was the first time since 2009 Scarsone wasn't Barfield's manager since coming to the organization.
"He's a great manager, he's going to manage in the big leagues some day," Barfield said.
Barfield, 6'5'' and 220 pounds, has always possessed the tools to make it to the major leagues, but his approach left something to be desired. In the Texas League, his power potential was there, but his career .321 on-base average kept his OPS to just 731. Like other outfielders in the organization, Barfield may have been a victim of the numbers game given the recent influx of outfielders to the higher levels of the A's organization (including the big leagues). As time went on, Barfield became less focused on the big picture.
"At the end of the day – they even told us this in spring training – you're not just playing for us, you're playing for 29 other teams out there," Barfield said. "If I can open the eyes of my organization or other organizations out there, it opens up more possibilities."
The son of former big leaguer Jesse Barfield and the brother of former major league infielder Josh Barfield has worked on compacting his movements at the plate, particularly in his load as the pitch arrives. Pairing his new mechanics with his patience has benefited him greatly in the season's first two months.
"We like to use the term ‘clicky,'" Barfield explained. "It wasn't a smooth transition with my load. I'm a big guy, just to be able to use my leverage to the most of my ability."
"Midland can be a tough place to hit," Scarsone added. "That's a grind there. He's paid his dues with that.
"I would say the playing conditions have improved from there and you find a lot of guys that become better hitters as they move up because pitchers are more around the plate, especially for a guy that, earlier in his career, was a free swinger. He got himself a little shorter and a little more selective."
Barfield was near the career 300-game mark for the RockHounds before getting called up and admitted his weariness of the Texas League grind. But coming to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League should allow the organization a better chance at assessing Barfield's major-league potential.