The Quiet Success of Darren Baker
24 year-old Darren Baker first came on the scene in... 2002. Yes, you heard that right. Darren Baker's first taste of the national spotlight came in 2002 when he was a 3 year-old batboy for the San Francisco Giants. His father Dusty was the manager at the time. Darren ran onto the field in Game 5 of the World Series to grab the bat but was unaware that the play was still going on. Luckily the Giants' Jeff Kent scooped him up as he crossed home plate. This made MLB raise the ages of batboys and ballgirls to a minimum of 14 years old.
Fast forward to 2017 and Darren was drafted as a high schooler by the Washington Nationals. At the time, it felt more like a tribute to beloved manager Dusty Baker. Instead of signing with the Nationals, Darren went on to play four years of college baseball at the University of California Berkely. Baker played very well in the Pac-12 and batted .303 in 167 college games. Baker was again drafted by the Nationals in 2021 and was assigned to the Florida Coast League for several games before finishing the season with Fredericksburg.
Darren was a solid player but not a very highly regarded prospect. However, he continued to show promise into the pros. In his first minor league season he batted .333 in 22 games. He followed that up with time split between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg in 2022 and earned himself an invite to the Futures Game. Personally, I wasn't expecting him to continue his success but he ended up hitting a solid .280 in 105 games that year. This year the Nationals assigned him to Triple-A after a solid spring training and he is currently hitting .333 through 16 games and 65 at-bats. He even won player of the week recently.
Baker won't hit for much power. He has only 4 minor league home runs, but I believe that he could be an interesting player to keep an eye on for the rest of the season. With Ildemaro Vargas temporarily sidelined and the team in full rebuild mode, Baker is only an injury or two away from making his major league debut. What started as maybe just a fun draft pick, Baker has proven that he can hit and I don't think that he should be counted out of the Nats' future plans.
Players like Darren Baker are not as highly regarded as players like Brady House, Elijah Green, and James Wood who all hit for power and have other interesting skill sets. Non home run hitters are not as highly regarded as they once were but I think that this narrative shouldn't be held onto as much as it is. I believe that a player like Baker could have a place on the Nats in the future. Maybe not as a full time player but who wouldn't want a bench bat who can hit for average and steal some bases. I will be rooting for Baker this season and will wait and see what he does and how the Nationals utlilize him should his success continue.