Barton putting his career on a fast track

Barton putting his career on a fast track

JUPITER, Fla. -- At one point last fall, it appeared that Brian Barton would be the first player selected in the Rule 5 Draft in Nashville, Tenn., at the Winter Meetings in December. But offseason knee surgery dropped Barton's stock, and the one-time Cleveland Indians prospect wound up going to St. Louis with the 10th pick.

"I was excited about the opportunity," Barton recalled, "because it was going from a situation not knowing whether I would have an opportunity to be in the big leagues to being put into a situation where it's up to me. Well, not necessarily up to me, but if I do pretty well, at least I know I have a good shot, and that's very exciting to me."

His knee apparently fine, Barton's career track is back in step. He is having a good spring, perhaps good enough to convince the Cardinals to keep him on the Major League roster.

The Rule 5 Draft provides an opportunity for any player not on a 40-man roster who has spent at least three years with a Minor League contract to be drafted by another team. Such players can be drafted by another team for $50,000, with the selecting team obligated to keep the player on its Major League roster for the entire subsequent season or offer the player back to the original team for $25,000.

In Barton's favor are his ability to get on base and play all three outfield positions, and the fact that he bats right-handed. Most of the Cardinals' outfielders are left-handed hitters.

Barton is a career .317 hitter in 354 career Minor League games. Signed by the Indians as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami, he owns a career .417 on-base percentage.

The 25-year-old played the majority of last season at Double-A Akron and was promoted late in the season to Triple-A Buffalo. He ranked second in the Eastern League with a .314 batting average and was fifth with a .416 on-base percentage. He stole 21 bases last season in 31 attempts.

"He runs well, he's an excellent worker," manager Tony La Russa said. "[I] think he's had generally good at-bats where he's handled different [types of] pitches."

Barton went 2-for-3 with a double and triple on Saturday, bringing his spring average to .381.

"So far, I think I've done pretty well," Barton said. "I feel comfortable out there and have confidence. To me, actually, [being a Rule 5 pick] makes it a little more fun, because I know what's at stake. I know I have an opportunity to fulfill my dream, and to me that's exciting, so actually, it allows me to go out there with a little more confidence and have a little more fun."

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In 2004, Barton led the nation with a .371 batting average at Miami, but he was undrafted in part because teams thought he would use his degree in aerospace engineering to pursue a career in that field. The Dodgers drafted him in the 38th round out of high school, but he did not sign.

The Indians signed him, liking his blend of power, speed and on-base ability. He stole 60 bases over the last two years, although his power numbers dropped slightly, perhaps as a result of the knee.

Now healthy and running free in the outfield at Roger Dean Stadium, Barton said he's fine and that he just needs to spend more time running down balls to shake off the rust.

"I grew up playing center, so I'm more comfortable in center or in right, just because I've played in those two positions the most, but I can play anywhere," he said.

Barton believes that all he needs is time in the field and at-bats to show the Cardinals what he can do.

"I feel like I can probably get a little better jumps in the outfield," he said. "It's been a while since I've [fielded] balls live off the bat, so I've been hesitant as far as getting reads.

"Overall, there's always things you can work on. I'll stay with it and have fun and see how it turns out."

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.