Dodgers 2016 Season Previews: Austin Barnes
Austin Barnes is such a fascinating player that could be a vital part of the Dodgers’ long-term plans.
Austin Barnes has been tearing it up in Spring Training, but unfortunately a few bad contracts will probably keep him in the minors to start the season.
Barnes was a key part of the Dee Gordon trade last offseason, as the part of the trade that reportedly stung the Marlins the most was losing the AAA catcher. Not the top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, not the super-utility man Enrique Hernandez. Barnes was their 15th ranked prospect following the 2014 season, but his profile was very safe and the Marlins probably would have preferred to not move him.
Barnes got limited playing time in LA, with only 37 at bats in 20 major league games last season. He barely hit over the Mendoza line, but his on base skills were as-advertised. For a bigger sample size, Barnes triple slashed .315/.389/.476 at AAA-Oklahoma in 335 plate appearances last season with nine home runs and almost as many walks (35) as strikeouts (36). He only played behind the plate last season in AAA, but split time between second, third and catcher in his limited time in LA.
2016 Role and Steamers Projections
As much as I love Petriello, I sorta disagree with this statement. Barnes should absolutely be on the major league roster and he probably would be on 29 other teams. However, with Alex Guerrero‘s guaranteed contract he’s pretty tough to move and can’t be sent to the minors and Carl Crawford‘s expensive, unmovable contract, it’s tough to envision a way Barnes squeezes onto the Dodgers’ bench. It’s not so much that the Dodgers are too deep with talent to carry Barnes on the major league roster, but it’s just difficult to get him on there.
A.J. Ellis will be the backup catcher hopefully until he retires, but Barnes’ versatility makes him valuable. He would be a great option to back up at third this season, but there really isn’t room on the bench for him. If someone (Guerrero) is move or released, Barnes should be the first option to take over a bench role.
Steamers only projects 45 major league plate appearances for Barnes this season and a .256/.323/.380 triple slash. ZiPS projects a much more optimistic 466 plate appearances and a .244/.311/.376 triple slash, which is fine for a catcher with ++ defense as Barnes is. He’s turning heads in Spring Training with nine hits and four homers in 27 at-bats.
What Could Go Wrong?
Barnes isn’t guaranteed any playing time in the majors, so the worst case for him would be if Guerrero proves serviceable and remains on the roster the whole season. Barnes is a much better player than Guerrero, but Guerrero’s contract makes him the likely last guy on the bench unless he’s traded or straight-up released.
It’s tough for a good defensive catcher to have a bad year. Even if he hits poorly, Barnes will provide a lot of value in his pitch framing and defense. Add in his ability to play at second and third, and Barnes has minimal downside.
Next: A.J. Ellis Season Preview
What Could Go Right?
Whether or not Barnes becomes a quality regular or a depth piece will be completely dependent on his offense. His profile points to success, as he has great contact and on base skills. His power is a bit limited, but he could consistently reach double-digit homers, which is perfectly acceptable for an elite defensive catcher.
However, it’s really easy to see a scenario in which Barnes becomes an above-average offensive catcher. Catcher is generally a weak-hitting position, so a .260/.330/.400 slash with Barnes’ defensive ability would give him a long career. There’s no weakness in his game (he even stole 12 bases in AAA last year), so while he won’t ever be Buster Posey, he could give the Dodgers a stud catcher moving forward. He’s only a year younger than Grandal, but his first arbitration-eligible year will also be the year Grandal becomes a free agent. If Grandal stays healthy he could be one of the best catchers in baseball, but if he doesn’t the Dodgers have a very solid backup plan.