Barmes excited to be in middle of Astros' plans

Barmes excited to be in middle of Astros' plans

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- As much as Clint Barmes loved playing for the Colorado Rockies -- the only organization he had ever known -- and as much as he felt a level of comfort in Denver, he knew it was probably time for a chance of scenery.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind," he said.

With Barmes heading toward a raise in arbitration and perhaps a backup role in Colorado in 2011, the Rockies traded him to the Astros in November for right-hander Felipe Paulino. Barmes welcomed the trade, especially after talking to general manager Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills.

"I was excited to hear they said the majority of my time was going to be at shortstop," he said. "Hearing that and getting an opportunity to get back to the other side [of second base] and play every day, I was very excited about that. Colorado was starting to look at moving me into a utility role, and I feel I have a lot of years left to play and I want to do it as long as I can. I was very excited to get an opportunity to come over here and do that."

Barmes, 32, will be the Astros' starting shortstop on Opening Day, pairing with second baseman Bill Hall -- a fellow newcomer -- to give Houston some veteran leadership in the middle of the infield, as well as some much-need brawn to a lineup that struggled to score runs last year.

"I can't sit here and tell you what my numbers are going to be or what I'm projecting, but I'm expecting good things for us," Barmes said.

Sure, the Astros loved Barmes' makeup and reputation as a terrific clubhouse guy. But of the players the club was targeting this offseason, one of the things that drew them to Barmes was his ability to hit the occasional home run in addition to being a strong defensive player.

"We knew from the reports we had from our scouts and others who had been around, there was a leadership element there and there were real high grades for his makeup and character and hustle and intensity and all that kind of stuff," Wade said. "It's more than just a residual benefit, but it's secondary to the fact with he and Bill Hall, we have two guys who can hit the ball in the gaps and out of the ballpark every once in a while."

The Astros were last in the National League in home runs last season with 108, only nine of which came from middle infielders. Barmes hit a career-high 23 homers in 2009, but batted just .245. A year earlier, he hit .290 and managed 11 homers in 393 at-bats.

For the Astros, it's more about the doubles and driving in runs than it is about hitting the ball out of Minute Maid Park.

"You look at my seasons the last few years, in 2008 I hit for high average, but in 2009 I hit for a lot of power and a lower average," Barmes said. "Last year, I tried to work on the strikeouts and I ended up struggling on both [average and homers]. And so going into this offseason, I was working on what I was trying to do in '09, getting back to hitting for power and using more of the field and driving the ball to the big part of the field, as opposed to just pulling the ball.

"A lot of my issues in '09 average-wise were pulling off balls and trying to catch them out front too much, and I was missing a lot of stuff down and away and chasing stuff out of the zone. One of the adjustments I feel like I made this offseason is driving the ball to the big part of the field, which is going to help with my strikeouts, but not lose any power as well."

Barmes played mostly shortstop earlier in his career, before moving to second base with the emergence of Troy Tulowitzki for the Rockies. He spent the majority of the last two years as the starting second baseman, and he has 333 starts at shortstop and 306 at second base in his career.

The chance to return to shortstop and start new in a new town has made this Spring Training an exciting one for Barmes.

"Coming in into a whole new situation, new team and meeting new faces, it brings a lot of excitement," he said. "I really enjoy the people over here and meeting the guys and am just trying to fit in and do what the Astros have asked me to do, and that's try to come in and lead on the infield."

Barmes could hit the free-agent market following this season, but he admits he likes the direction the Astros are taking and wonders if his new home is one to put down some roots.

"I like the direction this team is going and I would like to stay here," he said. "I'm going to go out and have a solid year and compete, and every team's coming in looking to try to get to the playoffs and win a championship, and this team is going in that direction. I'm not saying this year could be one of those years, but I'm excited to be thrown in the middle of it all. Hopefully I stick."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.