The Dodgers under Andrew Friedman always pride themselves on their depth. The depth they have at catcher however, may be their best kept secret.
With Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes at the top they already boast one of, if not the best catching duo in the Majors. Kyle Farmer also came up and was very productive as a pinch hitter for the Dodgers. It stays just as strong as you get into the minor leagues as well. Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz both showed promise in the minors in 2017.
Yasmani Grandal has been the Dodgers’ starting catcher since he was acquired prior to the 2015 season. During his 3 seasons as a Dodger, Grandal has slashed .237/.332/.448 with 65 home runs. He’s also regarded as one of the best pitch framers in all of baseball. Other than an occasional passed ball, Grandal has been solid on both sides of the plate for the Dodgers. Despite this, the Dodgers are still rumored to be willing to trade him. With Grandal going into his final year of team control, it does make sense for the Dodgers to clear a path for Austin Barnes to take over as the full-time catcher.
Austin Barnes was acquired from the Marlins prior to the 2015 season in the deal that sent Dee Gordon to Miami. Barnes bounced back and forth between Triple-A and brief stints in the Majors in his first two seasons in the Dodgers organization. In 2017 he was given the opportunity to be the Dodgers backup catcher, and he thrived. Barnes hit .289/.408/.486 with 8 home runs in 262 plate appearances. Barnes was one of the best offensive catchers in all of baseball, although it’s a small sample size. Some may think it’s a fluke, but his career numbers in the Minor Leagues suggest this is who he’s always been. In 2575 Minor League plate appearances, Austin slashed .299/.388/.439 with 46 home runs. The offensive prowess from Barnes makes Grandal expendable.
Kyle Farmer is an interesting case. He has hit well at every level he’s been at professionally, but it still took him 5 seasons to reach the Majors. Farmer went 6 for 20 during his brief stint in the Majors, with a very memorable first at-bat which ended in a walk off win for the Dodgers. Farmer is a career .297/.350/.439 hitter in the minor leagues, so he has shown he can consistently do it. This creates a question, is his bat enough to make him Barnes’ backup if Grandal is traded? If his success in the minors is any indication, the answer is yes.
Will Smith was drafted 32nd overall by the Dodgers in the 2016 Amateur Draft. Smith has slashed .238/.357/.393 with 15 home runs while stealing 10 bases in his two minor league seasons. His offense may not jump off the page, but the trait that has him highly regarded is his defense. He’s athletic, and like Barnes has played second base and third base as well as catcher. He also has a solid arm, in two minor league seasons he has caught 48% of runners who tried to steal. While he may never be a great offensive threat, Smith’s defense should be good enough to get him to the big leagues. His bat did show signs of life in the Arizona Fall League though. Smith slashed .371/.452/.565 with 7 extra base hits in 18 games.
Last but certainly not least, the Dodgers have fast riser Keibert Ruiz. At just 19-years old, Ruiz is a budding star in the minor leagues. In 2017, Ruiz slashed .316/.361/.452 with 8 home runs and 23 doubles across 411 plate appearances. In MLB Pipeline’s recently released list of top 10 catching prospects, Ruiz ranked third. Keibert is regarded as an above-average defensive catcher, and with his success at the plate looks to be the full package. Having never played above Class-A Advanced, he’s likely still a full year or more away from the Majors. Still, his rapid development is a sign that the Dodgers could have a future All-Star on the way. With Grandal a year away from free agency, Ruiz could be in line to be in the Majors with Austin Barnes come 2019.
The Dodgers have the deepest stable of catchers in all of baseball, and their collective success in 2017 proved that. While it looks like Barnes and Grandal will be splitting reps in 2018, there’s an abundance of options behind them. Trading Grandal may seem risky, but his value in a trade may outweigh his value to the Dodgers. Either way, they have plenty of exciting options moving forward.
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