Two years after being acquired in the trade that sent Dee Gordon to the Miami Marlins, Austin Barnes was finally given a chance to star on the Major League stage for the Los Angeles Dodgers and he did not disappoint.
The 27-year-old began the season as a backup to Yasmani Grandal, but he proved early on that he belongs at the Major Leagues at both the plate and behind it.
Barnes accumulated 262 plate appearances in 2017, after receiving just 37 in each of the previous two seasons, and was one of the best catchers in the league. He posted an .895 OPS, his 142 wRC+ led all catchers (min 250 PA) and his 2.5 fWAR was tied with Grandal for eighth among catchers, although he received significantly fewer at-bats than all the ones above him.
After a very successful regular season, Barnes took over starting catcher duties in the second game of the NLDS. He’d start all but two of the Dodgers’ postseason games, though he struggled in the NLCS and World Series, batting a combined .158 in those two series. His management of the pitching staff and at-bat quality kept him behind the plate though, as manager Dave Roberts stuck with him all the way through.
Barnes had some memorable moments during the regular season, including a game in which he hit a 3-run home run and a grand slam. He was also on the other end of Ross Stripling’s highlight, clubbing a walk-off double against the Pirates.
But nothing beats coming up big in the postseason. In his second start during the playoffs, Game 3 of the NLDS against the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers were clinging to a 2-1 lead against Zack Greinke. Cody Bellinger had driven in the previous runs, including a solo shot in the fifth inning.
After Daniel Descalso came up with a solo home run of his own to pull Arizona within a run in the bottom of the fifth, Greinke surprisingly returned to the bump in the sixth to face Barnes. After falling behind 0-1, Barnes drove the second pitch he saw out to left field for his first career postseason home run, giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead. The Dodgers would go on to win by that score, taking the series in a sweep.
With such a strong season under his belt and Grandal’s impending free agency after next season, Barnes should see an increase in his playing time in 2018.
Reports say the Dodgers are open to dealing Grandal, though the club could keep both backstops and continue getting Barnes reps at second base. Expect to see plenty of Austin Barnes next year.