Heading into the season the Los Angeles Dodgers might have had the deepest group of catching prospects in major league baseball. Yet they also started the season with one of the weakest depth charts at the position.
After Yasmani Grandal left via free agency, the Dodgers were looking at Austin Barnes, Kyle Farmer, and Rocky Gale as their everyday backstops. It didn’t seem to impact their odds all that much, as the Dodgers remained heavy favorites to win the World Series, and are still often featured as the pick of the day at prominent MLB free pick sites. But it certainly left a hole in their game that people could pick at.
The Dodgers eventually traded for Russell Martin in January, a move that provided them with a veteran stopgap behind the plate. That made it easier to let a free agent looking for multi-year riches like Grandal walk.
There was some talk of trading for J.T. Realmuto, but the Dodgers didn’t need or want to make a big money commitment with Will Smith, Keibert Ruiz, Connor Wong and Diego Cartaya comprising the pipeline of backstops making their way through the team’s system.
However, none of them projected to be opening day roster ready. That left pretty much left Barnes and Martin to start the season. Thus far that’s worked out well enough.
Last season in Toronto Martin only played 90 games due to various injuries and a sub-par offense performance. Martin hit .194 but managed to walk so much that he had a .338 OBP. This year in 21 games he’s batting a respectable .259 with an OBP of .397.
Defensively Martin remains surprisingly good. He is still one of the better pitch-framers whose skills was worth 7.3 runs, per Baseball Prospectus last season, which had him at 1.7 WARP despite only playing in just over half the season for the Blue Jays.
Barnes actually won the starting role late in the 2017 season, then lost it back to Grandal in Spring Training of 2018, and went on to have a dreadful season offensively last year. He then became the starter again during the postseason when Grandal couldn’t find his defensive game.
Barnes put up a respectable .895 OPS in 2017, but that fell to .619 in 2018. Overall in 40 games this season, the 29-year-old has hit .231/.345/.393 with seven doubles, four home runs, and 15 RBI. He threw out 28% of potential base stealers last season, and has caught 29% in 34 starts this year. Yesterday the Dodgers placed him on the 10-day injured list with a strained left groin.
With Barnes going down, Smith was called up yesterday. This marks his first call-up to the Major Leagues. He spent some time with the team last September after the Triple-A Oklahoma City season ended. The Dodgers gave him an unofficial call-up to the then 23-year-old Smith, who stayed and traveled with the team even though he wasn’t on the 40-man roster and wasn’t eligible to play.
Going into this year Smith was ranked a top-five prospect in the Dodgers organization by many publications this past winter, and got off to a hot start at the plate this season. Smith hit .290/.404/.551 with eight home runs, 28 RBI and 28 runs scored for Oklahoma City.
This season marked Smith’s second with Oklahoma City. He was selected by the Dodgers in the first round (32nd overall) of the 2016 MLB Draft.