Daric Barton was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round of the 2003 draft, as a high school catcher from Huntington Beach, California. His defensive skills were considered mediocre, but the Cardinals loved his sweet swing and approach to hitting, and bucked the "second round talent" consensus to pick him 28th overall. He hit .291/.416/.419 in 54 games in the Appalachian League after signing, showing excellent strike zone judgment. I gave him a Grade B- in the '04 book.
Barton played 90 games for Peoria in the Midwest League in '04, hitting .313/.445/.511 with 13 homers, 69 walks, and a mere 44 strikeouts in 313 at-bats. A Midwest League pitcher told me that summer that Barton was "impossible to pitch to," that he hit everything, fastballs, breaking balls, changeups, and was never fooled. His defense was weak and he faced a position switch, which was probably part of the reason the Cardinals included him in the December '04 Mark Mulder trade to Oakland. Despite the glove issue, I gave him a Grade A- in the '05 book and rated him as the Number Five hitting prospect in all of baseball, an aggressive ranking.
It didn't look like a bad call at all after Barton hit .318/.438/.469 in 79 games for High-A Stockton, then .316/.410/.491 in 56 games for Double-A Midland in '05. He adapted well to first base, while continuing to demonstrate exceptional pure hitting skills with 87 walks against just 79 strikeouts all year. He retained a Grade A- rating, but dropped to Number 17 on the hitter list due to scouting concerns about how much home run power he would develop, plus the positional switch.
2006 was an injury season: he was limited to just 43 games for Triple-A Sacramento by a broken elbow. There were also complaints about his general physical condition, lack of power, and erratic defense at first base. This was enough to drop him to a Grade B in the 2007 book.
He played 136 games for Sacramento in '07, hitting .293/.389/.438 with 78 walks and 69 strikeouts in 516 at-bats. He also got into 18 games for Oakland, hitting an exciting .347/.429/.639. This got him boosted back to a Grade B+ and a Number 17 ranking in the '08 book, although I didn't go higher due to the continued lack of home run power at first base.
Barton played 140 games for the Athletics in '08, hitting just .226/.327/.348, though he did draw 65 walks. He split '09 between Oakland (.269/.372/.412 in 54 games) and Sacramento (.261/.386/.458 in 70 games), then played every day last year with a .273/.393/.405 mark, with 10 homers, 33 doubles, 110 walks, and 102 strikeouts.
He still doesn't show the home run power normally expected of a first baseman, but his exceptional walk rate stands out. So far, he's a career .260/.369/.399 hitter, OPS+109, including last year's OPS+119 mark. His fielding at first base didn't draw great reviews when he first moved there in the minors, but it was decent in '08 and '09 and excellent last year, helping boost his WAR. He was at 4.9 WAR in 2010, giving him a 7.0 mark so far in his career.
The main question for Barton remains home run development. At age 25 he still has time to develop more, but even if he stays where he is now in terms of power, his combination of high OBP and strong defense makes him an above average player.
Most Similar Players by Sim Score: Ed Stevens, Phil Todt, Chris Chambliss, Travis Lee, Jack Burns, Jim Spencer, Mickey Vernon, George Scott, Mike Ivie, and Wally Pipp. Stevens, Todt, and Burns were all throwback players from the 30s and 40s who faded early. Lee was an early fader too. Vernon, Chambliss, and Scott were all good. Wally Pipp is famous for being replaced by Lou Gehrig, but he was a very good player.