Dodgers 2016 Season Preview: A.J. Ellis
Our next preview looks at backup catcher and hopeful future coach A.J. Ellis.
A.J. Ellis has been a fan favorite for his quiet sense of humor and bromance with Clayton Kershaw. He’s quietly been a rock behind the plate for the Dodgers, and despite losing his starting spot, still has a valuable role on the team.
Ellis had a poor 2014, prompting the Dodgers to trade Matt Kemp to San Diego for a Yasmani Grandal. Grandal took Ellis’ starting spot, but declined sharply in the second half with a shoulder injury and Ellis still played a very valuable role.
Ellis made 55 starts in 2015 and posted a .238/.355/.403 triple slash in 217 plate appearances. Ellis has never been a high-average hitter, but his great catchers’ eye makes him a very patient hitter at the plate, as he drew 32 walks and struck out only 38 times in 2015.
When Grandal struggled in the second half, Ellis came up huge, slashing .255/.376/.459 after the all star break and hitting five homers. Ellis probably should have gotten more playing time in the second half and the playoffs, but Grandal played through his injury and was essentially an automatic out for a couple months.
2016 Role and Steamers Projections
Ellis enters the 2016 season as the backup catcher, but prospect Austin Barnes could take over at some point this season. Barnes is a fascinating player and has elite defense/contact skills, and his versatility could come in handy. Ellis will likely remain the backup catcher and play more often against left-handed pitching.
Steamers is projecting a down year from Ellis, with a .226/.322/.341 triple slash in 209 plate appearances. Much of Ellis’ contributions come from his intangibles, and there’s no way to measure those. His clubhouse presence and catcher IQ will always be there and is why I believe he’ll make a great bench coach the second he retires, whenever that may be.
What Could Go Wrong?
Ellis played nicked up in 2014 and his numbers showed it. He’s never going to be a dominant offensive catcher and his pitch framing is pretty terrible, but as long as he’s getting on base and not being relied on all too much, the downside is very limited.
From Ellis’ standpoint, the worst case is another bad season at the plate. His defense will be passable and his game-calling is always great, so really the only question mark will be at the plate. He puts together good at bats for the most part and his pop can sneak up on you.
Worst case for the Dodgers would be if Ellis has to play more often this year. Grandal played hurt for a good chunk of last season, and if Grandal gets hurt again it could derail the Dodgers chances. Barnes and Grandal are probably the long term plans behind the plate, so in a terrible world Ellis would get squeezed out if he plays poorly.
Next: Yasmani Grandal Season Preview
What Could Go Right?
Much like his low downside, his upside also isn’t very high. It would be shocking if he came out of nowhere and hit in the .270 range again, but as long as he shows his good on base skills and helps the pitching staff as an unofficial player-coach, he’ll be more than deserving of his roster spot.
In a perfect world, Ellis would be a solid backup catcher this season (and catch Kershaw’s inevitable perfect game in game seven of the world series), ride off into the sunset and become a bench coach next year.