Double-A Bowie utility player Josh Barfield was the top prospect… (Photo courtesy of the Bowie…)
BOWIE — Two older gentlemen sit in the back of the press box, arguing over the validity of the diving catch the Bowie Baysox right fielder just made.
"I'm going to give Barfield defensive player of the game after that catch," one of the two Baysox staffers exclaims, while his counterpart shakes his head and looks down at his scorebook.
"No way. He took the wrong angle," the other says. "It was a nice catch but only because he was out of position."
So it goes in the career of Josh Barfield, the former top prospect of the San Diego Padres who now finds himself as a 29-year-old utility man for the Orioles' Double-A affiliate.
In a career once defined with words like "potential" and "promise," Barfield — the son of former major league All-Star outfielder Jesse Barfield — is now the oldest player in Bowie, just six years after he burst onto the scene in San Diego as a 23-year-old second baseman.
After being called the Padres' top prospect in 2004 and 2005 by Baseball America, Barfield hit .280 in his first season with the big league club in 2006. It seemed like the Padres had found their second baseman of the future, or at least a promising young talent to develop.
So when San Diego traded Barfield to the Indians for Kevin Kouzmanoff — who would hit .263 in three seasons at the Padres' starting third baseman — it confused not only some fans, but also Barfield.
"I was surprised," Barfield said. "I had a good year and it was my first year, so I wasn't expecting something like that to happen. That was my first introduction to the business side of baseball."
With one phone call, Barfield not only switched teams, but also leagues. He was uncomfortable adjusting to the American League — and it showed. He began the season off as the Indians' starting second baseman but struggled at the plate and lost his job to eventual All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera, hitting .243 with a .270 on base percentage.
"I got off to a slow start and was kind of playing catch-up after that," Barfield said. "I had some injuries and guys stepping in and playing well, so it just didn't work out for a number of reasons."
Barfield started the 2008 season in Triple-A, but a combination of his improved play and Cabrera struggling brought him back up to Cleveland in June, where he would be given a chance to prove his worth. Less than a week later, he sprained his left middle finger and went on the disabled list. Cabrera started playing better, and Barfield never got that chance.
Barfield got 20 at-bats as a late-season call-up in 2009, but he has played in just 29 major league games since the end of the 2007 season and none since 2009.
He has bounced around the minor leagues the last three seasons, spending time in Triple-A with the Padres' and Phillies' affiliates before the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal in March. Barfield has played all three outfield positions, second base, shortstop and designated hitter for the Baysox this season, and his role has expanded off the field as well.
"Every successful ballclub wants a Josh Barfield on the team, because he does a lot for your team when you're not even looking," said Gary Kendall, Bowie's manager. "Numerous times, he's sitting on the bench, talking to a young player about something that happened on the field. It's like having an extra coach."
Barfield's hopes of returning to the big leagues aren't over by any means. He is hitting .284 with 14 stolen bases and 21 RBIs in 58 games with the Baysox, and his ability to play multiple positions increases his value.
Still, his story illustrates the thin line between the majors and the minors. For players like Barfield, who seemed destined for major league careers, it's hard not to look back and wonder what if. What if the Padres hadn't traded Barfield? What if it didn't take him as long to get comfortable in Cleveland? What if he didn't injure his finger in 2008?
"I don't have any regrets, because there was nothing I did that was detrimental," Barfield said. "It just didn't work out. It was never a lack of effort or preparation. I still have my goals and I'm still playing, so I feel like they are still obtainable. As long as you are playing and have a uniform on, you still have an opportunity to get to the big leagues."
Last week, Kendall walked onto the field for an early infielders workout session. Barfield had been in the outfield and hadn't played second base in weeks, but he was still out there scooping up grounders with players almost 10 years his junior.
"I'm all for Josh getting an opportunity to move to the next level," Kendall said. "It's not like anyone in the organization doesn't like him. One day, hopefully, we get him in this office and tell him he's going up. It'd be nice."