After not participating in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft in 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals got back into the action this year. The club selected outfielder Brian Barton from the Cleveland Indians with the tenth pick in the first round of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Barton takes the roster spot vacated Wednesday night when So Taguchi was released.
Barton, 25 years of age, becomes just the third active right-handed hitting outfielder on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, joining Ryan Ludwick and recently-added Joe Mather. Former right-field starter Juan Encarnacion is not expected to recover from his serious eye injury enough to be able to play.
“Barton is a player that has always hit and he can play all three outfield positions,” said Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow. “He displays a good combination of speed and power and has an excellent work ethic.”
Barton was originally signed by the Indians in August, 2004 as an undrafted free agent from the University of Miami. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander started strongly in his first professional season in 2005 when he hit .326 with seven home runs, 64 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 99 games and earned a mid-season promotion from the Class-A Sally League to the A-Advanced Carolina League.
In 2006, Barton was selected to the Topps Class-A All-Star Team as well as the mid-season and post-season Carolina League All-Star Teams. He finished among league leaders in only half the season at Class A-Kinston before being promoted to Double-A Akron. At Kinston, he reeled off a Carolina League-best 22-game hitting streak, led the league in slugging percentage (.513) and was 26-for-29 in stolen base attempts before his promotion to Akron, where he continued to produce offensively, batting .351 with 15 more steals.
Coming into the 2007 season, Barton was ranked number 48 at the outfield position on the Scout.com Minor League Prospect List, ahead of all Cardinals outfield prospects other than Colby Rasmus.
Despite being slowed by a lingering knee injury which required post-season surgery, Barton continued to be an offensive force in 2007, posting a .314/.416/.440 line with Akron, along with going 20-for-29 in stolen bases. He was named a mid-season Eastern League All-Star before getting a late-season shot with Triple-A Buffalo. There the Los Angeles native received about a month of play, batting .264.
While possessing a nice package of power and speed, the right-handed hitter struggled against left-handed pitching in 2006. However, Barton righted his ship in 2007, posting a .313/.409/.404 line with Akron against lefties before hitting just .217 in a very small sample of 23 at-bats with Buffalo. Overall, he is a .317 hitter in 354 career minor-league games with a .417 on-base percentage since his 2005 professional debut.
Though he fits the profile, it would be a stretch to assume Barton can fill the Cardinals’ need for a new leadoff hitter in 2008. However, he will almost certainly directly complete with holdover Skip Schumaker for the fifth outfielder-late inning defensive replacement role previously played by Taguchi.
As a reminder, being a Rule 5 selection means that Barton must remain on the Cardinals’ 25-man roster all season long or be offered back to the Indians. With the left-handed hitting Schumaker out of minor league options, it appears something will have to give prior to the end of Spring Training.
Note: The Cardinals also have a third base prospect on their 40-man roster named Brian Barden, who was claimed off waivers from Arizona this past August.
Quiet in minor league phase
The Cardinals neither selected any players nor lost any in the minor league phases, Triple-A and Double-A, of this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Each of the previous two years, they took a catcher and middle infielder, but none of the four are still in the organization today.
In terms of potential losses, apparently concerns over the injury situation with pitcher Stuart Pomeranz led the other 29 organizations to pass on the 6-foot-7 right-hander. That is good news for an organization lacking starting pitching depth at the upper levels of the system.
Overall in this Rule 5, 18 players moved in the Major League phase, 36 in the Triple-A phase and six in the Double-A phase changed organizations. While draft spots cannot be traded, the players themselves can be moved once selected. Last year, for example, the Cubs selected Josh Hamilton, but swapped him to Cincinnati, where the outfielder starred in 2007.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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