The Los Angeles Dodgers opened up the 2019 season with Austin Barnes and Russell Martin splitting playing time at the catcher position. However, by the end of the year they were unseated by Will Smith.
As Barnes and Martin both struggled, they were supplanted by Smith by midsummer. He earned a promotion after putting up gaudy numbers during his time with Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Smith batted .268/.381/.603 with 11 doubles, 20 home runs and 54 RBI in 62 games for the Dodgers’ top Minor League affiliate and followed up that performance with equally impressive numbers at the Major League level.
In 54 regular-season games, Smith hit .253/.337/.571 with nine doubles, 15 home runs, 42 RBI and 30 runs scored. He helped make MLB history in a June series against the Colorado Rockies by becoming one of three Dodgers rookies to a hit a walk-off home run in consecutive games.
The 24-year-old at one point drew comparisons to San Francisco Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey and appears slated for an even bigger role with L.A. this year.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed that Smith will get the majority of starts at catcher this season, but Barnes is expected to receive a fair amount of opportunities as well, via Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group:
Roberts talks about Smith getting the lion’s share of playing time at catcher this season but also speaks of a “partnership” between Smith and Barnes at the position. “What that means – that’s to be determined,” Roberts said. “Is it 60-40, 65-35? That I don’t know.”
With Martin still a free agent, Barnes is slated to be Smith’s backup this season. He appeared in 73 MLB games last year, hitting a disappointing .203/.293/.340 with 12 doubles, one triple, five home runs and 25 RBI over 242 plate appearances.
Barnes also appeared in 25 games for Oklahoma City, posting a solid .914 on-base plus slugging across 110 trips to the plate. He is now three years removed from a breakout 2017 campaign in which he posted career-highs in every category.
Barnes batted .333/.462/.571 with two doubles, one home run and three RBI in 25 plate appearances (nine games) before MLB cancelled Spring Training games. Smith struggled by comparison, collecting only three hits over 21 at-bats.
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