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Dodgers Will Smith: It’s Time To Start The Fresh Prince

This is a story all about how the Dodgers catching position needs to get turned upside down.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 31: Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith (16) hits a base hit to left field during a MLB game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 31, 2019 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

.211/.316/.353. That is the current slash line of Dodgers’ starting catcher Austin Barnes. His offense is 20 percent below league average (80 wRC+) and he shows no sign of a turnaround.

91 percent of major league players have a higher hard-hit rate than Barnes and 72 percent have a higher average exit velocity. His poor hitting isn’t a slump, it’s who he is. It would be one thing if he was a defensive wizard behind the plate but he’s not.

His arm is one of the weakest of all catchers in major league baseball. His average throw is 74.8 MPH, which ranks 51 of 53 qualified catchers. This has a direct correlation to his pop time of 2.10 seconds, which ranks 49th in the league.

You will hear he’s starting because of his pitch framing abilities, but he is only in the 78th percentile now after ranking near the top over the last few years. It’s good, but not enough to keep sending him out to start every game.

Keeping Barnes in the lineup is hurting the team’s chances of winning. If Corey Seager was healthy and everyone else was hitting to their abilities (looking at you Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor), you could argue starting Barnes wouldn’t matter. But they’re not and Barnes is just like having another pitcher in their lineup.

Luckily for the Dodgers, they have Will Smith, who performed well during his time in the majors and continues to tear up triple-A.

At Oklahoma City, Smith has 4 home runs in his last 4 games, which increased his total to 12 and put his season batting line at .289/.400/.584 in 166 at-bats.

He has already shown he can handle major league pitching as he hit .286/.348/.619 with 2 home runs in 23 plate appearances when he was called up earlier in the season. It was a small sample and there will likely be some regression, but he showed he was poised and ready to make an impact.

Smith could also be the best defensive catcher the Dodgers have had in quite a while. He has a strong throwing arm, receives the ball well and he can block pitches. The Dodgers haven’t had a catcher who can do all that since Russell Martin was in his prime.

They also shouldn’t be scared of a roster crunch. Since Barnes, Martin, and Smith all have the versatility to play at least one other position, carrying an extra catcher on their bench wouldn’t hurt them.

LOS ANGELES, CA – (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

If they’re worried about finding play time for all of them, they shouldn’t be concerned if Barnes or Martin lose some at-bats because neither has earned it. In just 6 games, Smith has produced only 0.2 less WAR than Barnes (46 games) and 0.3 less than Martin (31 games).

And don’t get me wrong, Martin is having a fine year as the backup catcher, posting a .271/.379/.376 line in limited time. But at 36 years old, he can’t start as often as he used to and produce the same amount. Just last season he hit .194/.338/.325 in nearly a full-time role.

Neither Martin or Barnes has anywhere close to the ceiling Smith has, and at this point, they probably have a lower floor too.


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Giving Smith a real chance could also help the Dodgers decide what to do with their catching depth heading into trade season. Smith could make top prospect Keibert Ruiz expendable or they could decide to move one of Barnes or Martin, although they wouldn’t get much for either. They also have other talented minor league catchers they could deal, such as Connor Wong and Diego Cartaya.

Smith has shown why he is a highly-regarded prospect and at 24 years old, he shouldn’t be stuck in the minor leagues any longer. The Dodgers have World Series hopes so they shouldn’t settle for starting anyone but their best players. It’s time to make Will Smith the starting catcher.

Written by Blake Williams

I graduated with an Associate's Degree in Journalism from Los Angeles Pierce College and now I'm working towards my Bachelor's at Cal State University, Northridge. I'm currently the managing editor for the Roundup News and a writer for Dodgers Nation. Around the age of 12, I fell in love with baseball and in high school, I realized my best path to working in baseball was as a writer, so that's the path I followed. I also like to bring an analytics viewpoint to my work and I'm always willing to help someone understand them since so many people have done the same for me. Thanks for reading!

32 Comments

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  1. Totally agree. Does Barnes have options? The question of three catchers would be mitigated by sending Barnes down as we approach trade time. Kike’ and Chris Taylor aren’t producing, and though Freeze has been great, we need right handed pop. Tough decisions if and when Pollock comes back.

    • Spot on about some RH pop. Right now we are weak from the right side and if not at least addressed to some extent, that will be exposed come the PS JT is a great 3rd place RH bat, but he no longer can be expected to hit 25+ HR’s or drive in 90+ runs. As far as Barnes goes, dodgers need to make a move soon should Barnes continue for another extended period of poor offense and a weak throwing arm and all. Smith should be up here sooner rather than later but we all know this regime operates in their own way about certain things

      • Great article! Thank you for the unvarnished truth. Barnes was a wonderful surprise in 2017, but by the All-Star break, with no improvement, he has to be sent down or traded or released. No other choices.

        At 24, Smith deserves a real shot. Bring em up, start em. Go Blue!

  2. Bring Smith up and keep him up. It’s time. Love Barnes heart, great back up. Good bye Russelwin now and build the future at the same time

  3. I agree, when Martin was hurt I said call up Will. There is nothing to lose only an upside! He will help a less than average catcher batting average and he can learn from the veterans. He proved he can belong although the sampling was small.

  4. Totally agree, but as we have seen with Verdugo, Roberts wants to be liked by his veterans more than he wants to win. Smith would be a better option off the bench than Barnes, Taylor or Kiki. Use all of those as trade bait no matter how low return and how many positions they play. If they can’t hit they are worthless at any position.

      • AZUL, your post is very key!!!!! At this moment, Will Smith is more valuable than Barnes, both defensively and offensively. He played well in the short time he was with the big club, and I think this can continue if he is given playing time. Frankly, Barnes/Martin should be the backups. The only purpose Barnes serves is as a possible late inning replacement at second base. Davey Robert is winning, but as you correctly state, Paul, we may be paying a steep price for these victories in October. Go Blue!!!!

  5. why do players have to be penalized to stay in the minors and stay there for multi years? who is afraid of bringing them up and get rid of less performing players? where is the thought or ruling? supposed to have the best farm system but afraid to use the players but they will use them to “bolster” a trade and not fill the holes on a team and sit on non-performing players…….how many trades really help a team?

    • Just wait, I think you’ll see the farm team IS to fill the major league roster. And have you heard of Barnes, Muncy, Beattie, Kike, Taylor, Seager, Pederson, Verdugo and Bellinger? That’s pretty much the whole field and ALL from the farm.

  6. I agree, don’t understand the Austin Barnes love except maybe to buy time for The fresh prince. When Barnes Taylor and or Hernandez are in the lineup, it isn’t pretty..

  7. Good luck as you follow your dreams. Until you earn the right to be so judgmental and personal in your opinions concerning our catchers, try to be a little nicer in your opinions. I do enjoy reading your stuff.

    • Just wait, I think you’ll see the farm team IS to fill the major league roster. And have you heard of Barnes, Muncy, Beattie, Kike, Taylor, Seager, Pederson, Verdugo and Bellinger? That’s pretty much the whole field and ALL from the farm.

  8. Bringing up Smith is an obvious solution, as least it is to most of us. In fact, he should never have been sent down. Makes you wonder about this management team. There is no justification to go with Barnes, none at all.

    • Well Smith has options and Dodgers said they wanted him to get regular AB’s down in OKC. Evidently they are not sold on the fact that Barnes just cannot cut it offensively, IDK….

  9. “Keeping Barnes in the lineup is hurting the team’s chances of winning. If Corey Seager was healthy and everyone else was hitting to their abilities (looking at you Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor), you could argue starting Barnes wouldn’t matter. But they’re not and Barnes is just like having another pitcher in their lineup.”
    Probably the most vital part as outlined on this page by Blake here.

  10. Barnes must go. No questions asked. He can’t hit or throw people out. Needs to go to the minors if he has options left or a DFA and take him off the 40 man. We need a quality right hand bat also or it will be a short time stay in the playoffs. Mr. Friedman there is lots of work to do before July 31.

  11. “Keeping Barnes in the lineup is hurting the team’s chances of winning.”

    And yet they are tied with the Astros with the most wins in MLB.

  12. judgmental and personal? He stated facts. I think you got one too many participation trophies growing up.

  13. Couldn’t of said it better myself. I believe barnes has 2 options left. However, I’ve made an argument to keep all 3 until Seager and/or Pollock come back. Were not exactly using garlick a whole lot .

  14. Time for Barnes to go. Trade ,demote or DFA. With him ,Kiki ,and the pitcher in the lineup,it’s almost an automatic three outs.Bring up Smith now and let him be the everyday catcher.

  15. I kinda knew we were in trouble w Barnes as the primary C to start the year.Smith has earned the right for a real shot.Considering Weve got holes at 2B,C and the BP it’s amazing we’ve got as many wins as we do.This def makes Codys case for MVP for me now.

  16. This front office is unable to recognize mistakes, I remember kazmir, hatcher, anderson, kelly and now clerly smith is a better catcher than barnes

  17. Could not agree more
    Barnes and Kiki as well together with a pitcher mean we lose three innings of offense each night
    It also means rallies that should continue get killed
    Their defense does not warrant the loss of offense
    Know they like both but sooner or later the Dodgers must decide if they want a Championship or not
    Must do the difficult to let Everyone know we are serious about a Championship
    Same with the bullpen
    Been patient long enough
    Shake a few feathers

  18. Baseball management doesn’t look at catchers like how fantasy baseball enthusiasts do.

    Management probably wants to see more of what Barnes can do before ruling him out of the picture. There are more things to look at that then hitting and throwing a runner out for a catcher. Calling a game. Pitch framing. Rapport with the pitching staff. Rapport with the home plate umpire. Is Barnes dealing with typical injuries that catchers carry throughout the season that are affecting his performance both at the plate and behind the dish?

    As far as Smith goes….Will Smith is unproven, not proven.

    A hot start by Will Smith doesn’t mean he will keep that up. It is a small sample size of major league success. And you can basically throw AAA Pacific Coast League numbers out. They don’t mean anything.

    I’m not for or against Will Smith. Neither am I for or against Austin Barnes. There is a reason why Smith is in the minors and Barnes/Martin tandem are on the Dodgers roster. As long as the team keeps winning, they’ll manage the roster like a major league club and not a fantasy team.

  19. Will Smith should be the Dodgers #1 starting catcher
    Beatty should be their #1 choice for 1st base

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