What if, and hear me out here, but what if Austin Barnes actually can be the Dodgers answer at catcher in 2019?
Barnes, 29 in December, was a disappointment in 2018. I wish there was a way to sugar coat it, but sadly, there’s not. Having come off of a year where he took Yasmani Grandal’s job by season’s end, expectations were high entering spring training in 2018.
Never known as a offensive force in spring training over his career, his .111 batting average in 2018 didn’t appear to warrant a red flag.
Career Stats — Spring Training
Through his first 6 games in 2018 — and I note that we are talking an extremely small sample size — he was batting .429, and all was right with the world. Then reality reared it’s head.
By the end of April, Austin was batting .190 with a .655 OPS while Yasmani Grandal was raking with a .315 AVG and .953 OPS. We had our catcher for 2018.
Of course, now we know how that story turns out… Grandal was hot and cold, relied upon too often (career high 999.1 innings caught) and wore down by season’s end. Again.
But this isn’t an article to condemn Yasmani, there are plenty of them out there already.
Austin Barnes 2017
Some folks may not remember — or perhaps not understand — how exceptional Austin Barnes was in 2017.
He appeared in 102 games while batting .289 with 8 homeruns, all career highs on offense. He started 49 of those games at catcher and had a .994 fielding percentage while throwing out 23% of would-be base stealers.
His .408 on-base percentage would have placed him in the top-10 in all of baseball, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
He was also one of the most clutch Dodgers in 2017 batting .328 with runners in scoring position, including .333 with RISP and 2 out.
The advanced stats loved him, which resulted in 2.7 wins above replacement, in only 262 at-bats.
He performed well enough to be rated a top-10 catcher in baseball by MLB Network’s “Shredder” in the off-season (he was number 6). He was primed to show that he was the real deal.
Austin Barnes 2018
Some could argue that bouncing back and forth took Austin out of his rhythm. Of course, he also appeared in 21 games at 2B in 2017. Whatever it was, he did not look comfortable at the dish for most of 2018.
After a rough April, as outlined above, and Yasmani Grandal in a zone, perhaps Barnes was pressing trying to prove himself once again.
While the batting average was down, he was still getting on base at an impressive .386 clip through April and May. By June, his season took a dramatic nose dive, and he never recovered.
All told, his 2018 season looked like this:
When it comes to catcher, we know the names that are out on the open market. We also have an idea of who may be coming down the road. But we don’t yet know who will be the primary guy to suit up in 2019.
You can go out and sign an aging guy like Jonathan Lucroy, coming off a season where he OPS’d .617 for $6.5mm.
You can trade away a kings ransom for JT Realmuto.
Or you can roll the dice again and see which version of Austin Barnes is the real deal… 2017, or 2018.
More Barnes at Dodgers Nation
- Dodgers: Austin Barnes Says He Has Improved His Swing This Offseason
- 2018 Dodgers Player Reviews: Austin Barnes
- 2019 Dodgers Projections: The Catchers