WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -Josh Barfield is penciled in to be a starting second baseman again in 2008.
There's one catch, however. Instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians, as he did for most of last season, Barfield likely will be with Triple-A Buffalo when the season opens.
A prolonged slump and the strong play of Asdrubal Cabrera over the final six weeks of last season leaves Barfield fighting to win back the job.
``I'm not here to make the Buffalo team,'' he said. ``I can't worry about things that are out of my hands. I'm here to make this team.''
It's not as though the Indians didn't give Barfield a chance in 2007. Even more alarming than his .243 batting average was the fact he struck out 90 times and drew only 14 walks in 420 at-bats. Those numbers lead to a question that seems simple, but is difficult to answer. What went wrong?
``I got off to a bad start,'' he said. ``My swing got all out of whack. Then I was trying to play catch-up.''
Barfield, whose father, Jesse, was a major league outfielder from 1981-92, began the season in a 7-for-60 skid. He regrouped to bat .278 in May and .317 in June before his problems resurfaced, which led to a .193 average in the second half. He studied videotape from the 2006 season when he batted .280 as a rookie with San Diego and was more patient at the plate.
But making changes in the middle of a season isn't the easiest thing to do.
``Sometimes in the heat of the moment, you don't always see things,'' he said. ``My dad saw some things, but they were harder for me to see.''
Cabrera took over as the second baseman on Aug. 15. Barfield was used primarily as a pinch-runner the rest of the season and had 17 at-bats in the final six weeks.
The Indians were praised in several circles for making a good trade when they acquired Barfield from the Padres following the 2006 season. Cleveland dealt third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who tore up minor league pitching but often battled injuries, and pitcher Andrew Brown to San Diego. The idea was to make Barfield the Indians' second baseman for several years.
That plan has obviously changed. Cabrera was a big factor in the Indians' charge to the AL Central title. And now the 22-year-old slick fielding switch-hitter has a firm grip on the job. Cabrera, who batted .283 in 45 games last season, also gives the Indians a solid No. 2 hitter behind Grady Sizemore.
Even though Barfield is only 25, his path to the starting job is blocked unless Cabrera turns out to be a half-season wonder. Cabrera's natural position is shortstop, but Jhonny Peralta plays there and is signed through 2010. The Indians signed Jamey Carroll to be the utility infielder. Barfield has two minor league options left, so the Indians want him to play every day at Buffalo and work on his offensive game.
Barfield made 15 errors last season but showed good range and a strong arm.
Unlike some players, Barfield realizes he has some accountability for the situation he's in.
``It's probably my fault for putting them in a position where they had to make the decision (to go with Cabrera),'' he said. ``I want to show what kind of player I am. I didn't do that last season.''
Notes: Indians manager Eric Wedge isn't concerned that heavy workloads last season will affect LHP C.C. Sabathia (241 innings) and RHP Fausto Carmona (215 innings). ``I think they'll be OK,'' Wedge said. ``They're both so strong and they work hard.'' ... Wedge isn't overly enthusiastic about the physical condition of INF Andy Marte. ``It's not great,'' the manager said. ``It's not bad, either. He still needs to do some work this spring.'' Marte, once thought to be the third baseman of the future, is out of minor league options. He's slated to be a backup at third and first. ... The Indians have one open spot for their seven-man bullpen. The winner doesn't have to be a long man. ``If he can go two or three innings, we should be OK,'' Wedge said. RHP Tom Mastny, who appeared in 51 games last season, is the leading candidate. RHPs Jorge Julio, Rick Bauer, Jeff Harris, Matt Ginter and Scott Elarton, all non-roster players, are others.
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