With the call-up of Will Smith, the Dodgers will see some major changes in their catching landscape.
Looks like Will Smith is getting his first MLB promotion by the Dodgers today. After Austin Barnes' Sunday groin injury, the Dodgers promoted Josh Thole to Triple-A and started catcher Rocky Gale in today's game. Club has not made an announcement.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) May 27, 2019
Smith being recalled, along with Austin Barnes heading to the Injured List leaves veteran Russell Martin remaining on the roster and performing well.
While Barnes is injured, there is no roster crunch with Smith and Martin simply acting as the team’s two catchers. However, upon the return of Austin Barnes, what happens? If Will Smith is setting the world ablaze with his bat, can they really demote him?
To answer this question, let us first take a look at the numbers of all three catchers:
Barnes has been underwhelming this season, but not as much as you might think. He holds a 100 wRC+ and has been worth almost one win this season in 40 games. His groin injury against the Pirates came in the midst of a hot streak for Barnes, as a few weeks prior, he was among the worst hitters in baseball in terms of wRC+. It is not out of the realm of possibility that we see Barnes get traded this season to make room for Will Smith on the active roster for the long haul.
Martin has been a very pleasant surprise with the bat this season and continues to act as a welcome veteran presence in the Dodgers’ clubhouse. Although he has managed just 20 games due to injury, he has been stellar, posting a 123 wRC+ and an .812 OPS.
Although his contract is one that is fairly large, most of it is being paid by the Toronto Blue Jays, so there is no real threat to Martin being traded this season. It would simply make no sense to take him off the roster considering his value on both sides of the ball this season as well as his value in the clubhouse.
Smith is off to a fantastic start in Oklahoma City in 2019, posting a 133 wRC+, marked by a .290/.404/.551 batting line. This season, Smith’s walk rate has jumped 3.4%, all the way up to 15.1% and his strikeout rate has dropped from 24.4% to 21.1%. He has crushed 8 homers and driven in 28 runs.
According to Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs, Smith possesses a 60-grade arm from behind the plate and a 55-grade glove. He is capable of playing third, as well.
A Good Problem to Have
There are a lot of catchers on this roster and a lot on the verge of a come-up. Rocky Gale has seen time for the Dodgers and most likely has his roster spot in jeopardy. Barnes is most likely not in the future plans of the club with both Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz poised for major playing time in 2020. Russell Martin is off the books after the 2019 season. It is a good problem to have.
Most teams do not have a good catcher on the roster and potentially, the Dodgers could have three this year and three again next year. Something has to be done. Whether by trade or another course of action, Will Smith needs playing time just as Keibert Ruiz will next season and Diego Cartaya will in a few years.
In my opinion, the Dodgers should trade Austin Barnes in a package for a pitcher (possibly a solid reliever) and run with Smith and Martin, contingent on Smith performing well, which I have no doubt in my mind he will. Come playoff time, Martin and Smith will be a formidable catching tandem.