The Dodgers are blessed with three major league-level catchers in Will Smith, Austin Barnes, and top prospect Keibert Ruiz, who is in the minors. What we have seen so far is a continuation of what we’ve seen in the past where Barnes catches whenever Clayton Kershaw starts and now Walker Buehler has worked into that mix. Smith mostly catches the other starters.
We’ll take a look at some possibilities the Dodgers should look at for mixing it up a bit and reasons why that would be a good idea. First, we’ll take a look at both catchers.
Compare and Contrast
Will Smith is pretty good pic.twitter.com/KhdUSdefsP
— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) April 7, 2021
- Smith absolutely rakes. His power numbers since he was called up in 2019 rank near the top of all baseball.
- In 2020, Smith was the 5th fastest Dodger in sprint speed at 27.8 feet per second. That is above average for all players and the 3rd fastest catcher in baseball.
- Overall athleticism
- Very good throwing arm
- His pitch framing went downhill in 2020, being near the bottom of baseball.
- Catching the ball at home plate on throws is inconsistent
- He’s still learning about calling a game. That comes with time.
- Clearly, Kershaw and Buehler prefer Barnes.
Quiet, Balanced, Strong, On Time, Consistent, Smooth, Soft, Quick, Effortless, Fluidity, Plus Hand Eye, & Repeatable Glove Actions ??? pic.twitter.com/b1GGGkVME9
— Hector Rabago (@Hectorrabago24) April 3, 2021
- Barnes is an excellent pitch framer and seems to keep getting better.
- He blocks dirt balls very well.
- It seems that he is a team leader and has a lot of respect from the team.
- His hitting has improved since early in the 2020 season when Mookie Betts worked with him. However, the fact he was so bad for over two years is a concern. If he keeps hitting like he has been then his hitting is neither a strength nor a weakness.
- He doesn’t seem to have the strongest or most accurate throwing arm. Sometimes he gets in a good throw but too many seem to fade high and to the right.
Both Will Smith and Austin Barnes complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If you combine them they would be the perfect catcher. But we don’t have that technology…
The bottom line is that they both have strengths and weaknesses but any team would value them on their team. In the future, Keibert Ruiz may bring together more of the combined skillset on both offense and defense. He should be a big factor in 2022. Below is a video of Ruiz playing defense in 2017 when he was still just a teenager.
Why Make A Change Now?
The season is just starting so why not now? It is a very long season and we do not know what may happen? What if Austin Barnes gets hurt or reverts to hitting like it was 2019? Remember, Barnes did not even make the playoff roster in 2019 because his offense was so bad. If Kershaw and Buehler hardly pitch to Smith all season and Barnes goes down, do we want it to start at the end of the season? Same with the other starters like Dustin May, Julio Urias, and Trevor Bauer pitching to just Smith. If Smith goes down do we want Barnes to have to get used to them in the postseason?
Mix it up now.
Dave Roberts has stated that Will Smith will start about 90 games or so. Given that then Smith should catch about four of every seven games. Notice in the title I use the word “sometimes”. How about Smith catches Buehler and Kershaw once every four of their starts? Barnes can do similar with the other starters.
Many catchers take a few years to develop and let’s not forget that both Barnes and Smith are converted from playing the infield. Barnes has had more time to develop as a catcher and it is evident in the way he works with the pitching staff. For Smith to get closer to Barnes as a catcher, he needs to play. I had no problem with Barnes catching a lot more in the postseason.
As much as possible I’d like to see the Dodgers use the first four months of the 2021 season to grow both of the catchers and get the starting staff to be comfortable with both catchers. This would combine the continued development that is needed and the need to have contingencies at the catching position for the post-season. The Dodgers have amazing depth at catcher throughout the organization and the “issues” we are talking about are issues almost any team would love to have.