As the Dodgers enter the off-season moving towards the 2019 season the biggest question mark revolves around the catchers. Yasmani Grandal is a free agent (he could return) and Austin Barnes forgot how to hit. Even if Grandal comes back for a year the catching situation at the Major League level is a major question mark going forward. However, as many know, there is good news; the Dodgers have some amazing catchers in the minors. We will go over some of the main prospects and, maybe, some you haven’t heard of. I was able to speak with the Rancho Cucamonga Manager the last 3 years, Drew Saylor, about the guys that he’s had and was alerted to some by @RaptorsStringer.
Keibert Ruiz – age 20, Tulsa (AA), ETA 2020
I was able to see some of Ruiz during the season a bit with the MiLB First Pitch application on my iPhone. However, when I saw him on the MLB Network in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) All-Star game I saw a smooth handler of pitches and some good approaches at the plate. On the offensive side, Drew Saylor spoke of his cleanness of the swing with a bat/ball approach resembling Victor Martinez (a hero of Ruiz – both switch hitters). Defensively, Saylor spoke of his soft hands, tools and baseball intelligence.
In some reviews I’ve read about Ruiz there needs to be some improvement in his throwing. To get a good glimpse of the type of character and work ethic Ruiz has, read about his unlikely family.
Will Smith – age 23, Oklahoma City (AAA), ETA mid-2019
I have not been able to get any up close action of Smith. Offensively, it seems he struggles a bit at different times. AAA was extra tough on him as indicated by his slash line of .138/.206/.218/.425. However, in AA his slash line was .264/.358/.532/.890.
Defensively, Drew Saylor raved about his “electric arm”, continued improvement in his receiving, his blocking is strong and his catch and throw is “elite”. Offensively, Saylor spoke about how he has grown a lot. That really began to show in AA as he hit 19 homers in just 265 at-bats. I hope he can cut down on his strikeouts.
As with many Dodgers, versatility is valued and Smith plays a pretty good third base and can even play second in a pinch. He also has above average sprint speed. Here is a story about his Rookie Career Development Program experience. We all know what we really want, Will Smith (the lefty) facing our Will Smith. It could happen as early as 2019.
Connor Wong – age 22, Rancho Cucamonga (A), ETA late-2020
Wong, like Will Smith, is a versatile player who has good speed also. He started his college career as a shortstop and learned how to catch after his freshman year. Drew Saylor spoke of his ability to play a quality second and third base. He played a lot of second base when I saw him play and he looks excellent at that position.
As a catcher, Saylor spoke of him having soft hands, a good grasp on game calling and an improving transfer when throwing out base stealers. Saylor also said he’s a steady leader, which is important for a catcher. On the offensive side, Saylor cited that Wong made a lot of strides later in the season to be a key contributor during the stretch drive. Wong got off to a hot start with a lot of homers but hit a slump. He seems to be a grinder with excellent athletic ability. I would not be surprised if he plays a lot of second base at the Major League level, given how much talent there is at the catching position.
Steve Berman – Age 23, Rancho Cucamonga (A), ETA 2021
Berman might be someone you’ve not heard of but I was impressed with him. Drew Saylor called him a “glue guy” who was excellent for the team culture. As I observed, the team culture for the Quakes was amazing and Berman was a big part of it. He seemed to be the funniest guy on the team also.
Berman’s season started slowly as he was off and on the disabled list 4 times through July 5th. He was able to make some key contributions during clutch times once he came back. Offensively, Saylor spoke of his knowledge of the situation, taking professional at-bats and was well prepared. From a defensive perspective, he receives well and calls a good game. He’s a student of the game and showed great improvement from 2017 to 2018. With some health, he will get a lot of playing time in 2019 and will make some big strides.
Given his personality and preparation habits, he can be in this game for a long time past his playing career. Here is an interview of Steve with Steve Douglas:
Ramon Rodriguez – age 20, Great Lakes (low A), ETA 2022
Rey-Rey started the season with Great Lakes but was sent down to Ogden. Offensively, he’s someone who will take a walk and had some nice overall batting numbers in 2017. My source, @RaptorsStringer says that his caught stealing percentage was 36% which is not too bad. Rodriguez has an opportunity to move up in 2019 and I would not be surprised to see him in Rancho Cucamonga soon.
Marco Hernandez – age 20, Ogden (rookie), ETA 2022
Another tip from Joe @RaptorsStringer, Hernandez has some nice offensive numbers. He’s got some height at 6’2” but is built more like an infielder. This might be a player to keep our eyes on.
Diego Cartaya – age 17, did not play, ETA mid-2021
Cartaya, by many accounts, was the top international prospect of the 2018 signing period. He’s already 6’2” and weighs around 200 pounds. According to MiLB he’s very advanced defensively and has a mature approach at the plate. He’s shown a willingness to go to the opposite field and could be more of a higher average hitter than a power hitter.
Drew Saylor told me that he thinks catchers have a 3-fold difficulty than other positions players. They get beat up more than anyone else and are on-field leaders. The Dodgers do have an amazing set of prospects at the catching position. It is something to be excited about but the Dodgers have a hole there for 2019. Who steps in and fills that hole?
[button color=”red” size=”big” alignment=”center” rel=”follow” openin=”samewindow” url=”https://www.dodgersnation.com/the-dodgers-plan-on-staying-under-the-luxury-tax-bs0193/2018/11/09/”]The Dodgers Plan On Staying Under the Luxury Tax[/button]