The Los Angeles Dodgers frequently tapped into their talented farm system during the 2019 season, calling up several rookies who immediately found success at the Major League level.
Chief among them was Will Smith, who finds a spot in ESPN’s Buster Olney’s ranking of the top 10 catchers for the 2020 season. Olney amasses his annual list by receiving input from evaluators and others around baseball.
Philadelphia Phillies All-Star J.T. Realmuto tops the list, while former Dodgers backstop Yasmani Grandal, Roberto Perez, Christian Vazquez and Gary Sanchez round out the top-five, in that order.
The second half of the rankings consist of Yadier Molina, Willson Contreras, Mitch Garver, James McCann, and Smith, who checks in at No. 10.
The 24-year-old began his 2019 campaign with Triple-A Oklahoma City before receiving his first MLB promotion at the end of May. He impressed right out of the gate and helped make MLB history in a June series against the Colorado Rockies, becoming one of three rookies to a hit a walk-off home run in consecutive games.
An oblique injury sidelined Smith for the majority of July, but he returned to the Dodgers at the close of the month. It was from that point on the former first-round draft pick was tabbed with starting duties behind the plate.
Smith immediately picked up where he last left off, garnering rave reviews from a National League scout in which he compared the rookie to Buster Posey.
Despite some struggles in September, Smith enjoyed an all-around debut season with the Dodgers. In just 54 regular-season games, he hit .253/.337/.571 with nine doubles, 15 home runs, 42 RBI and 30 runs scored.
That was on top of a fantastic showing with Triple-A Oklahoma City in which Smith batted .268/.381/.603 with 11 doubles, 20 home runs and 54 RBI over 62 games.
On the defensive side of things, Smith most impressively did not commit an error behind the plate in 403 innings. He also threw out 23% of would-be base stealers, falling just short of the MLB average (26%).
Smith went just 1-for-13 with five strikeouts and three walks in the National League Division Series loss to the Washington Nationals, but nearly hit a walk-off home run in the deciding Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.
Smith prepared for larger role
The Dodgers’ rookie catcher downplayed any concern with the short ramp-up during Summer Camp and expressed confidence he is in position to assume a regular role behind the plate this season.
“My body feels really good,” Smith recently said. “It’s just getting those catching legs under me and trying to ramp that up as fast as possible without wearing down too quick. Get ready to catch however many games they throw my way.”
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