374 Days ago on his 25th birthday, Jeremy Barfield was given a career defining choice by the Oakland brass. Specifics aside it essentially boiled down to the option of transitioning to pitching or being given his outright release. At the crossroads, the Texas native chose the former, eschewing his bat and taking up permanent residence on the back mounds of Arizona to start a resurrection from the bottom up.
Possessing a cannon for a left arm, Barfield’s 91 outfield assists over six seasons in the sticks had showcased an elite tool that overshadowed his deficiencies at the plate. With Sean Doolittle’s sweet scent of success still lingering in their nostrils, Oakland’s director of player development Keith Lieppman and Minor League rehab pitching coordinator Garvin Alston put together a plan in motion to reinvent Barfield and in short, salvage his career.
Using Doolittle as the prototype, Lieppman and Alston patterned a pitching blueprint to slowly but surely acquaint Barfield with his new mission on the field. While the hirsute Doolittle provided the most obvious comparison, his extensive college pitching experience was perhaps not the most sensible. Barfield on the hand, has pitched sparingly in high school and was solely an outfield when he was drafted out of San Jacinto (TX) Junior College by the Athletics in the 2008 Amateur Draft.
Appearing in the Instructional League at the tail end of 2013, and later spending a short sojourn in the Dominican Republic – all signs pointed to a full season as the next great brainchild of Oakland’s ingenuity. Armed with a 93 mph fastball, and developing slider and split-finger -Barfield sought help from former big league hurlers Dontrelle Wilis and Mike Jackson while stateside last winter in an attempt to expedite his learning curve heading into spring training. Assigned to Single-A Stockton after camp broke, the 26-year old southpaw jumped out to a hot start operating out of the bullpen of the Ports. Striking out 13 batters in his first nine innings out of the ‘pen, while allowing only one earned run.
However, the makings of Hollywood story were not to found as just three months later a spiral of command issues and a propensity to allow the long ball left Barfield with a 4.63 ERA, 6.15 WHIP, 10 K/9, 7.2 BB/9 – and the organization in agreement to put the kibosh on his failed foray into pitching. Once the dust settled, Barfield’s eventual return as an outfielder to Double-A Midland signified not only an abbreviated push to showcase himself before hitting minor league free agency this winter – but perhaps to stay true to himself. After a compelling side journey, Barfield’s present is back under his own terms and his future is yet to be decided.
In just over a year’s time, Jeremy Barfield has come full circle.