Austin Barnes Was Key Offseason Acquisition

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After following the story of the catching depth within the Dodgers system this offseason and the work of the new front office to revamp the catching, an interesting and important acquisition has begun to fascinate me with its under-the-radar significance. The Dodgers are in a lot better situation with their catching corps, and the acquisition of catcher Austin Barnes bolstered their depth at the position by a considerable amount.

The blockbuster deal which sent Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Miguel Rojas and cash to Miami in exchange for brief Dodger Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher, Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes now seems incredibly lopsided, and the Dodgers really got a great package in the deal including catcher Austin Barnes. Kiké Hernandez has also played well this Spring, and Andrew Heaney was the bait which netted the Dodgers solid second base defense in Howie Kendrick.

With the highly publicized and criticized Matt Kemp/Yasmani Grandal trade, some of the nuances of the other transactions Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi made during this offseason may have had less acclaim or credence. The trade with Miami could very well be the most fruitful exchange in recent Dodger history. Even though Dee Gordon’s All-Star season with the Dodgers was inspirational to watch, selling high on Gordon garnered the Dodgers some valuable short-term and long-term talent.

Mike Petriello wrote an incredibly informative and enjoyable read on catcher positional power rankings for 2015 for Fangraphs where the Dodgers rank much higher than expected due to their upgrade with Yasmani Grandal. Even though Barnes doesn’t affect the positional power rankings much, the improvement in overall catching depth is nice to see. It’s also amusing to see that Russell Martin and Dioner Navarro are both playing for the Blue Jays now.

The rankings don’t consider pitch framing. Grandal’s pitch framing prowess could give the Dodgers an even higher ranking if framing were a component of the projections. The Dodgers, although taking somewhat of a risk on taking on the once-P.E.D. user Grandal, have bolstered their catching depth considerably given that A.J. Ellis, Drew Butera, Tim Federowicz and company hit a combined major league worst .181 batting average and just 7 homeruns.

Even though Grandal nor Ellis are defensively elite like a Yadier Molina, they work well with pitching staff. Ellis’s CS% dipped from 44% to 25% (2013-2014). Grandal only threw out 17% of base stealers, but where he lacks in his arm he makes up for with his excellent pitch framing which will add another advantageous layer to the Dodgers pitching staff’s arsenal.

Even so, the Dodgers pitching staff ranked 19th in the majors in stolen bases allowed in 2014 (86) even with the arms of A.J. Ellis and Drew Butera. Butera’s CS% was 32% over 57 games if you are curious. Of course the CS% statistics are influenced by the pitcher as well, but it is an area to be aware of. Remember, the Dodgers will play Miami six times this season, and Dee Gordon will surely be running against his former team.

Austin Barnes adds yet another important dimension to the catching collection assembled by the Dodgers for 2015. Barnes, who can play second base in a pinch, is a local prospect from Riverside, CA. Barnes has a minor league career line of .298/.390/.431 over 4 seasons in Miami’s system. He hit 13 homeruns, 31 doubles, 141 total hits with 61 strikeouts and 69 walks over 548 plate appearances (122 games) in single-A Jupiter and double-A Jacksonville.

The 25-year old backstop has thrown out  a minor league career 31% of base runners, and he only allowed one passed ball in all of 2014 (a promising number considering that Ellis and Grandal have a history of high passed ball rates).

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Barnes provides not only depth for the Dodgers at catcher, but he is an intriguing prospect in his own right. If A.J. Ellis or Yasmani Grandal have knee troubles at any point this year, we will get a look at Barnes in his major league debut.

Barnes also was the one to catch Will Ferrell during his relief appearance, so there’s that.

Even though Tim Federowicz was never as terrible as his up and down moments with the Dodgers when he was shuffled back and forth from Albuquerque and Los Angeles, having Barnes in the wings allows the Dodgers to develop a possibly impact bat in catcher Barnes. It’s not as though Andrew Friedman predicted the injury, but FedEx is out 3-6 months with a torn meniscus.

The Dodgers are in a much happier catching place than they were last season when they were desperate enough to use ear-biter Miguel Olivo behind the plate. There’s no denying that having a solid catcher is an integral part of any winning team (hello Giants and Cardinals), and I’m very pleased with the changes and pickups the new front office made this offseason in order to finally pair their superior pitching staff with top-notch catchers.

While Yasmani Grandal may not be the next Yadier Molina, and Austin Barnes may not be the next Mike Piazza, the moves made this winter strengthening the Dodgers catching situation has created a much more positive outlook than the situation I wrote about in the early goings of the offseason. Not only are the Dodgers better behind the plate in 2015 but Barnes and Grandal will impact the team beyond 2015 as well.

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