Dodgers: Austin Barnes’ Defensive Flexibility Will Play Big in 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Kenley Jansen
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Kenley Jansen /

Working the lineup card for the Los Angeles Dodgers may not always be the easiest task around. For Dave Roberts and his crew though, there is an extremely versatile group of players that they have to work with.

Heading into the 2018 season, players that saw success while maintaining a spot in the lineup (on most nights) in 2017 were somewhat scarce. Well, one player did stand out above them all last season; and that was catcher/second baseman, Austin Barnes. Not only did Barnes provide good, quality offense; he was also more than confident when Dave Roberts threw him in at his secondary position. The team player in Austin Barnes is something that the Dodgers have gravitated toward, and will continue to value his leadership as they swing into the new season.

Now, even with a small sample of what Austin Barnes was capable of doing last year, it seemed as though he gained much attention from the coaching staff for his ability to keep a position open for another player – whether it be at catcher or second base. Another important area in Barnes’ level of play in 2018 was just pure consistency. Whether it was at the plate with a bat, glove, or at second base, rarely were Dodger fans seeing mistakes being made by the 28-year-old. The Dodgers see Barnes as a guy who has earned his right to come to the ball park, ready to start a game, every day. Not only has he put in many years of service in the Minor Leagues, but he has filled in wherever the club has needed him to, regardless of the role that is given to him.

There almost seems to be a chip on the shoulder when it comes to the type of player that Austin Barnes has grown into. For a player who has been around long enough in professional baseball to know how the system works, and how loyalty to a solid work ethic will only better his chances of succeeding, he has certainly brought that mentality with him throughout his journey in pro ball.

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With the option of potentially dealing away catcher Yasmani Grandal, the Dodgers could more than likely find themselves in a situation to part ways with Yasmani. Depending on how their catching situation is at the end of the first half of the season, there could be some buzz around moving Grandal elsewhere, and slotting Austin Barnes into an everyday role – or to share time with Kyle Farmer. Moving Grandal could open up the catcher’s position nicely for Barnes and Farmer, while still keeping things well intact for the future, which consists of the number three catching prospect in the 19-year-old, Venezuelan, Keibert Ruiz (#53, of the top 100 prospects).

Though most of these options and opinions do look somewhat extreme – since most people will likely expect the Dodgers to remain fairly quiet for the time being; there could be an element of surprise, in order to shake things up enough to solidify the daily lineup card. One of the most important things in baseball is consistency, and especially at the catching position, it is crucial that both catcher and pitcher are always on the same page.

In the case of Austin Barnes, everyone knows that he is a team player and is more than willing to play the field wherever it is needed. However, to a player, there typically is a more natural, and easier feeling when you go into a game and know exactly where you will be playing. Of course, barring any injuries, it is likely that Barnes will see most of his time behind the plate; but for the sake of keeping a growing chemistry with catchers and pitchers, it might be in the best interest of Los Angeles to move the streaky Yasmani Grandal. It only seems unusual to keep a guy who is very hit or miss at the plate, even though his defense still holds positive value.

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Above all, there is a guy in-house who is more than ready to take on an everyday role as the Dodgers’ starting catcher; but whether that time is now, will be determined by the work that Austin Barnes will be putting in throughout spring training, and eventually, the regular season. Many Dodger fans – and probably front office personnel, also – would like to see steady production from their starting catcher (whomever that will be); unfortunately though, they might have to sacrifice one thing, to get the other.