Last August the Los Angeles Dodgers traded A.J. Ellis, the longest-tenured player in their organization, to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for fellow backup catcher Carlos Ruiz. He provided the Dodgers with a needed right-handed bat, but also was under team control beyond 2016.
However, that was rendered a moot point in some sense, as the Dodgers traded Ruiz to the Seattle Mariners in early November. That pointed to Austin Barnes serving as Yasmani Grandal’s backup moving forward.
Speaking at the Winter Meetings this week, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts confirmed as much. “Austin, you know, it’s his time,” Roberts said.
“He’s very athletic. There’s his bat-to-ball skills, pitch recognition, pitch framing ability, the athleticism. There’s a lot to like in Austin Barnes.”
The Dodgers’ faith in Barnes was evident during the postseason, when he was included on the National League Division Series roster. The 26-year-old allowed Roberts to more aggressively use Ruiz as a pinch-hitter, while Barnes was a candidate to pinch-run who could also play the infield.
Barnes’ versatility may become a factor next season. “A guy like Austin that can play third base, he can play second base, he can catch; certainly I like that flexibility,” Roberts said.
Barnes spent most of the 2016 season with Triple-A Oklahoma City, batting .295/.380/.443 with six home runs, 39 RBIs and 18 stolen bases over 85 games. He played catcher, second base, third base and center field.
Over 21 games with the Dodgers, Barnes hit .156/.270/.188 with a pair of RBIs in 37 plate appearances. Along with catcher, he also played second and third base at the Major League level.