PHOENIX -- It's not too often that a 22-year-old is essentially handed a starting job before Spring Training even begins.

The A's, though, seem to believe Daric Barton is the type of player who comes along, well, not too often.

Barton, a former first-round pick of the Cardinals who was acquired with Dan Haren and Kiko Calero in the Mark Mulder trade, hit .293 with nine home runs and 70 RBIs in 136 games with Triple-A Sacramento.

Then, in September, he was promoted to the Major Leagues -- and promptly raised his game a notch, batting .347 with nine doubles and four home runs in 18 games. Accordingly, the A's have high hopes for him in 2008. There are no special routines in place to prepare him this spring, just an expectation that Barton can handle it.

"He just needs to do what he did last year," manager Bob Geren said. "Whatever he did [to prepare] before September, that was perfect."

Barton knows he's likely to make the team, but he knows that getting a chance to play in the Major Leagues is one thing, and holding on to it and building a career is another thing.

"You've got to have confidence, but you can't take anything for granted," Barton said.

Just ask Carlos Pena, who began 2002 as the A's starting first baseman at age 24. He batted .218, got sent down in May and was traded to the Tigers later that year. Pena went on to be released by the Tigers after four seasons and spent most of two years in the Minor Leagues ... before hitting 46 home runs last year for Tampa Bay and being named American League Comeback Player of the Year.

"It's twice as hard to stay there as it is to get there," Barton said. "You've always got to worry about making it, because anything can happen in this game."

Barton, who lives in Corona, Calif., made sure not to spoil himself over the offseason. Rather, he trekked down to Marina High in Huntington Beach, his alma mater, to work out with the high school players there.

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"I go out there every year and work out with them," Barton said. "They help me out and I help them out."

Not only is Barton slated for regular playing time this year at first base and designated hitter, but he might not be consigned to the bottom of the order like many young A's were in the past.

"I batted Barton second last year," Geren said. "What he's done in his Minor League career and last September proves he deserves that chance."

Barton is glad to have the opportunity, as challenging as it might be.

"This is what I grew up thinking about and now it's here," he said. "It's going to be a learning experience for a long time."