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Dodgers: Assessing Will Smith’s Spring Struggles with the Bat

Should the Dodgers still make Will Smith their starting catcher even after a poor Spring Training?



Will Smith has had a rough spring. The Los Angeles Dodgers presumed starting catcher for 2020 owns a .143 BA through nine games. Exhibition games do not always correlate to regular season successes or failures, but could this be a continuation of Smith’s September and October downturn?

  • July (15 Plate Appearances) .462/.467/1.154    
    • 2 HR, 9 RBI, 5 SO
  • August (85 PAs) .270/.353/.649    
    • 8 HR, 19 RBI, 21 SO
  • September (67 PAs) .175/.284/.298     
    • 2 HR, 8 RBI, 17 SO
  • Playoffs (16 PAs) .077/.250/.077     
    • 0 HR, 0 RBI, 5 SO

A small regular season sample size, less than 200 plate appearances, does not provide enough information to predict long term trends for Smith. Neither does a few games in February nor March.

Let’s be honest, his scorching August had Dodger fans dreaming of their own homegrown version of J.T. Realmuto or Gary Sanchez. Smith amassed 15 homers in just 54 games. For added context, Smith finished 49th in at-bats as a catcher, but 16th in homeruns. He had more RBI than Colorado’s Tony Wolters despite the fact that Wolters played in 67 more games. Entertaining, exciting, and completely unsustainable.

Smith is not Mike Piazza, nor Jason Phillips.

Smith’s brutal Camelback Ranch numbers are certainly a concern. Smith has looked uneasy in the box to say the least. Maybe his glorious August was a flash in the pan and the contact never returns. Or maybe, Smith is destined to be a slightly above average hitting catcher with 20-25 homers potential and Dodger fans got a little too excited.

Bottom line, Smith just needs to be good, not great or exceptional for this team to succeed.

Smith provides value by lengthening the lineup more than your average backstop and not providing yet another automatic out in front of the pitcher’s spot.

Don’t judge Smith based on one month of other worldly production for any position. Judge him based upon his peer group. A group that provides as little offense as ever in this era. An era that values pitch framing over plate production.

Enter to Win a Gavin Lux Signed Ball!

As a minor leaguer, Smith profiled as a defensive catcher who needed to develop his offensive skills. In the majors, his receiving constantly come under fire after any loss in 2019. Managing a veteran staff with World Series potential takes time and an offseason. Smith will be much better defensively in 2020.

Austin Barnes serves as the contingency plan should Smith struggle through April and May. Safe to say the 30-year-old Barnes is having the opposite Spring Training experience with his .333/.400/.611 slash line. Also unlike Smith, Barnes has logged 800 PAs in the bigs to the tune of a .229 batting average devoid of power. 

Barnes is a known commodity who deserves a couple of starts each week. The Dodgers need to find out if Smith is their everyday catcher for the next few years.

Dodgers: Austin Barnes’ Exceptional Spring Makes Things Interesting

Written by Eric Eulau

Born and raised in Ventura, not "Ven-CH-ura", California. Number one fear in life is dying without ever seeing a Dodgers Championship. Host of The Series Sweep Podcast - link on my Twitter (@EEulau).

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  1. “Or maybe, Smith is destined to be a slightly above average hitting catcher with 20-25 homers potential and Dodger fans got a little too excited…”

    I would take those numbers right now and not look back. I doubt he will ever average 25 homes runs but 15-20 and 60-70 RBI’s makes him a very serviceable catcher, in fact as good as any catcher the Dodgers have had since Mike Piazza. He won’t hit homers like “Pizza” but he will be a good backstop and run the pitchers everybit as well. The starters like working with him. They like his take charge attitude and say he calls a good game. Unless Kiebert Ruiz turns into Gary Sanchez or becomes better all aroud than Smith, I’d say he stays where he’s at unless he stays in his funk at the plate. Barnes is a serviceable back-up until hits a home run, then all of a sudden his skills get out of whack while swings for the fences… Line Drives, Grasshopper, LINE DRIVES…

  2. Smith has never been a great hitter. His hot start was an anomaly. Following the Dodgers ML system closely, I was shocked last year. This isn’t really a surprise, it should have been expected. I didn’t see him ever being a major league starter and a fringe roster player at best. Diego Cartaya will be the teams next great at the position if all goes as expected. I for see Barnes as the every guy this yr.

    • Nice guy who never hit in minors over all.Hopefull McKinsey starts off well at AAA. Think he is a better choice than Rios, or that speedster, Gore or other left than comes off bench. Cannot think of his name Played with them last year and is having not so good ST.yes younger catchers in minors are future for LA. They need Barnes to just hit around .250

    • So what’s your opinion of Reks? He had I believe 23 HR and 91 RBI last year between AA and AAA but his name is NEVER mentioned as a top prospect or trade material. I don’t understand why.

  3. Will and Keibert are struggling. If the Dodgers want to pivot back to Astin Byrnes due to these struggles, God help us, we’re in bad shape at Catcher.

    • The sky is falling! Give it some time but the Dodgers would not be in bad shape no matter who caught.

    • I *SO* agree. Roberts needs to have the faith in Smith that he had in him last fall! We NEED Will Smith…every day.

  4. With Smith at catcher and Lux at second at least we have some certainty about the 7 and 8 positions in the batting order, unless one of the starting pitchers gets really hot with a bat.

  5. Just let Smith play through some stuff like they did with whiff Pederson. The kid is good, Barnes is terrible. I don’t care about at bats vs Minor leaguers. There’s a lot to be said about building confidence and Roberts does not do that with young players. Heck even if they are awesome like Tony G. They don’t get a shot. Bringing Wood back was a horrible road block for the younger pitchers.

    • I was thinking the same thing – Kershaw through ’21 at least, Price for 3 years, Urias just reached arbitration for the first time and Buehler isn’t yet eligible, and now Wood for 2 years. When is Tony Smokes – who was terrific this spring – going to get chance? Where’s the room for May and Gray?

      • Bum, as far as I know Wood is signed to a 1 year deal. Also, the rotation will be somewhat different later in the year, as no team usually has the very same 5 starters go all year long uninterrupted

    • It’s not Roberts it’s the FO they brought these blockers in for a reason this is what they want for whatever reason. I don’t completely blame Roberts for the other nonsense that goes on like lineup shuffling and platooning these things all have “progressive” FO written all over them

  6. Neither ruis or smith have ever demonstrated an ability to hit in the minors. For some reason we expected them to be our future? And we let Grandal walk with no apparent successor? At least our 2 catchers are capable defensively but both will struggle to hit above the Mendoza line.

  7. Taylor is not moving his back foot this year !!!!! I was all over him last season hoping some one on the team would catch the malfunctioning batting stance . His back foot is anchored like it should be and he is driving the ball … Let Smith work it out !!!!

  8. Folks, as far as Smith goes and anyone else on the active roster, it’s all about production, as Orel states. this is a production level here in MLB and if a player does not or can’t produce he will not play up here. If a player desires more playing time, then he must produce, it’s as simple as that.

    • Sometimes I wish Hershiser was the manager of this team. I’m not trying to take shots at Roberts, but everytime Hershiser says something, or makes an observation, it makes sense. Plus he would definitely have better insight into pitching moves late in key games.

  9. I’ve been saying Smith was placed in his position erroneously for quite sometime now. No offence to Will but the F0 was sooooo inspired to get rid of Grandal’s Cap hit, they touted Smith to be in the Hall of fame before he ever played 6 months. Did the same with Lux, and a few others recently. Maybe MLB will turn the National League into a DH league, and the Dodgers can have their pitchers hit, and Smith and Barnes etc won’t have to worry..

    • Grandal in 4 straight years for Dodgers was terrible, .100 hitter with 45% strikeout rate, was booed out of Dodger Stadium.

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