Dodgers Position by Position Breakdown: Catcher

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 25: Austin Barnes
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 25: Austin Barnes /

As the 2018 season approaches, the writers at Dodgers Way will be previewing the depth charts for each position on the roster and what may be coming down the pipeline for the future.

Yasmani Grandal:

At the beginning of the 2017 season, Yasmani Grandal was entrenched at catcher as a switch-hitting power threat for the Dodgers. Although most of his power came from the left side, he was well established as the starter against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers.

However, Grandal’s season didn’t go exactly as planned. Although he continued to mash from the left side of the plate to the tune of 20 home runs in 352 at-bats, he still suffered from a lack of power from the right side hitting, only 2 round trippers. Grandal had still hit for average from the right side as recently as 2015 but has done poorly since then, including a .233 average against left-handed pitching last year. His downward spiral worsened as the season progressed, as he hit only .216 in August and a woeful .154 in August and September combined, including an awful .172 average with runners in scoring position.

On the defensive side, Grandal met with mixed results.  Although he handled the pitching staff well (Dodger pitchers enjoyed a 3.22 ERA with him behind the plate) and despite throwing out .32% of potential base stealers, Grandal committed six errors and 16 passed balls in 117 games as catcher.

Perhaps because of Grandal’s struggles, manager Dave Roberts began to platoon him with Austin Barnes and used Barnes almost exclusively as the regular season wound down and throughout the postseason.  Grandal may still see action against some right-handed pitching in 2018 as a backup for Barnes, but his best value for the Dodgers may come as mid-season trade bait.

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Austin Barnes:

Many fans were surprised to see Barnes take over as the starting catcher.  It seemed somewhat reasonable to at least expect a platoon situation with Grandal facing right-handers to take advantage of his power at the plate, and for Barnes to face lefties. But continuing a Dodger theme, Barnes, a right-handed batter, also performed better against right-handed pitching. Barnes faced lefties and righties for an equal 109 AB, and although he hit 6 of his eight home runs against left-handers, his OPS, OBP, and batting average were all higher against righties. It’s presumably the vast difference in batting average (.321 against righties vs. .257 against southpaws) that led Roberts to give the nod to Barnes over Grandal.

Barnes was not only a better hitter than Grandal but was better in the clutch as well.  Barnes hit .338 with two outs and hit .328 with runners in scoring position, and provided the memorable clutch hit in this early season walk-off.

Defensively, Dodger pitchers posted a 3.74 ERA with Barnes behind the plate, and he threw out .23% of base stealers.  Although he could use some improvement in this part of his game, he committed only three errors and three passed balls in 55 games as a catcher and provides a strong presence behind the plate.  His agility and athleticism is unusual for a catcher and allowed Roberts to play him at second base in 21 games in 2017, and even one game at third.

Barnes still needs to get used to catching full-time.  His batting average tailed off from his blistering .342 average in August to a rather pedestrian .260 in September and October.  Although he performed well against Arizona in the NLDS, he disappeared in the NLCS and the World Series, hitting well under .200 in both series.

Look for Barnes to be the starter at catcher for the majority of the games in 2018, with Grandal as the primary backup.  However, with the possibility of a Grandal trade looming, and concerns over Barnes ability to handle a full season as the starter, the Dodgers may carry a third catcher on the roster in Kyle Farmer.

Kyle Farmer:

Farmer only had 20 at-bats with the Dodgers during the regular season, but none bigger than his major league debut, when he famously entered a July 30th game in the bottom of the 11th inning with the Dodgers down by one, and laced a double down the right-field line to win it in front of his parents and a nationally televised audience.

Farmer’s .300 average in limited action in 2017 was not an aberration as he hit .317 with ten home runs in 92 minor league games last year.  Farmer provides a viable option at catcher for the Dodgers and greater roster flexibility.

Keibert Ruiz: 

Ruiz was recently voted the Dodgers minor league player of the year after hitting .316 with eight home runs and 51 runs batted in.  He has also been listed as high as number 40 among the Top 100 prospects by Baseball America and could well be the future behind the plate for the Dodgers.  Ruiz is still only 19 years old and requires further seasoning in the minors, but is one to watch for the future.

Next: Dodgers position by position breakdown: First Base

Indeed, the future looks bright for the Dodgers at the catching position for 2018 and beyond.  With Austin Barnes leading the way, the Dodgers should see a strong offensive presence from the bottom of the lineup, clutch hitting, and strong defense.  Grandal’s power could provide late-inning heroics off the bench, as well as Farmer’s timely hitting should he make the team out of Spring Training.  Dave Roberts has much to work with, and could even turn to Yasiel Puig as the emergency catcher, although he has never played the position.  With Ruiz waiting in the wings, and a strong core in the dugout, the Dodgers are well stocked at catcher entering what hopes to be a championship season in 2018.