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Dodgers: Austin Barnes’ Exceptional Spring Makes Things Interesting

The battle for starts at catcher has heated up thanks to Austin Barnes’ big spring



The Dodgers find themselves with one of the best problems to have in Spring Training. The team is loaded with talent, so much so that there will be some tough calls as we get closer to Opening Day. One of the positions in a heated battle comes as a little bit of a surprise though. Austin Barnes has been impressing all spring long and could make the competition at catcher interesting this year. 

Spring Training is still just Spring Training, but it’s hard to not get excited about the numbers Austin Barnes is putting up. He has six hits in eighteen at-bats, and three of those hits are for extra bases. Hitting .333 at this point in spring after being so bad offensively the last two years has to at least inspire hope for the Dodgers. Dave Roberts knows what Barnes went through last year. 

I think there was a lot of things going on with his swing last year. I do think that when you look and the scoreboard (and see you batting average), that has some kind of factor on how he was a took things. You start pressing and trying to perform. 

That pressing eventually led to just 242 plate appearances and a career-worst 68 OPS-plus rating. Barnes lost his starting job in the second half of the season to rookie Will Smith, and his season might as well have been over from there. Barnes started just ten games in the second half and the Dodgers demoted him to Triple-A in July. But this is a new year, and quite possibly a new Austin Barnes.

I think that right now, mechanically, the headspace that he’s at, he’s in a great place. I think that if he could get better defensively, he’s done that in this camp…So Austin has really come into camp impressing. 

Getting excited about a spring performance is difficult, but let’s give it a little bit of context. Austin Barnes has been really bad offensively the last two seasons. If you take a look at his sping numbers combined for the last two years with the Dodgers, he has hit .209 with six extra-base hits and struck out twenty times. 

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Maybe there is something to his great spring start with the Dodgers, and maybe there isn’t. But Will Smith certainly experienced a downturn in performance after a hot start last year, and that has yet to pick up. Smith has three hits in twenty-one at-bats this spring and has struck out seven times. 

Keeping that in mind with Barnes’ hot start, things could get very interesting as we close in on Opening Day. 

NEXT: Dodgers’ Former Prospect Hospitalized After Julio Urias’ Hit By Pitch

Written by Brook Smith

Brook is the Senior Editor of Dodgers Nation, with several years of experience in sports journalism. He is an avid Dodgers and Lakers fan, and can be spotted fairly often at Dodger Stadium and Staples Center.

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  1. I think it’s safe to say that Will Smith should have been eased into the MLB position for the Dodgers. Passing on Realmuto, then letting Grandal walk was a mistake. Smith just can’t seem to keep it going offensively. Watching him this spring his arm isn’t even accurate either. The Dodgers have a tendency to put their prospects into the Hall of fame lately. Barnes is avg at best so looks as if catching position will be a weakness again this year.

  2. It’s spring again, and again I find myself hoping that Barnes can turn it around and finally recapture some of the offense he showed in 2017 (BA = 289). But we can only go through this exercise so many times. Barnes’ defense is well above average, but you have to provide some offense too. Smith is highly suspect after his steady decline last year, and now into spring of this year. Ruiz and other catchers in the system are still raw. I think it’s do or die for Barnes this year. I hope he can do it. Even a 230 average would be a big improvement. The starting catcher position should be wide open. Give it to whoever hits the ball. Hopefully somebody will. Right now it looks like the 8 spot in the lineup will go to whoever is catching.

  3. Read into the Osiris when he had a red hot first month?

    That…would not have made any sense.

    Bellinger went through a similar up and down early career. Take a breath.

  4. Grandal was a disaster offensively and defensively in the playoffs in 2018. It was painful to watch. Barnes is a good framer and solid behind the plate. Grandal struck out way too much.

    • Grandal did have a bad playoff’s in 18, but it was still better than his replacements efforts. There is a reason he is rated the 2nd best catcher in baseball, and a reason he signed a good contract in Chicago. He bounced back with another good year last year with the Brewers.Barnes is what he is, we shouldn’t expect anything more than a 200 avg and decent defense.

      • I’m not a fan of .240 boom or bust hitters that swing at pitches an 8 year old wouldn’t even offer at but with that being said his average is still 40 points higher, he’ll hit 25 homeruns and be solid defensively so why not. He can bat 8th in this lineup. If the alternative is a .200 bat with no power and an unproven kid who bursted onto the scene and flamed out then I would take Grandal

  5. The Dodgers need to get behind Will Smith and re-install his confidence. The club put a lot of pressure on him and obviously, he’s pressing. Smith is the team’s future at C.

  6. Barnes is going to have to prove he can do more that hit his weight. Smith gives you everything that Barnes does plus he has twice the power. Yes Barnes make nice pitch framing but if they go to “AutoUmp” to call balls and strikes, then what good is that… He needs to do more to help the team with his bat like he did three years ago… anybody can be a decent catcher. But not any catcher can be an offensive player too. If Smith can bat above 260 and hit 15 home runs and drive in 60 or 70, that is all the Dodgers really need. They have plenty of guys who can bomb. As far as throwing anybody out stealing, that is not as big a deal as it used to be. Teams don’t steal much anymore. But with the Dodgers who can’t hold anyone on, and with the new rules governing footwork and going to first, the catchers are going to be at a disadvantage on day one.

  7. Wondering at what point in these ST games is Barnes getting hits. Early in games when the MLB pitchers are throwing, or mid- to late-game hits when guys who will be in AAA or AA are on the mound? And as for his pitch framing, really how much does this impact balls and strikes calls? Umpires all seem to have their own strike zones, and not necessarily a strike zone as defined in the rule book. I could be wrong about this, though.

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