The Dodgers missed out on J.T. Realmuto but they still have a solid starting catcher in Austin Barnes. If Barnes can find the middle ground offensively in 2019, the Dodgers will be fine at catcher.
The Dodgers were unable to reach a deal with the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto and now they are set to report to spring training on Wednesday with Austin Barnes and Russell Martin as their two big league catchers. While Austin Barnes had a forgettable 2018 season, there is hope that he can rebound in 2019.
At the end of the 2017 season, Austin Barnes took over as the primary catcher for the Dodgers and stayed in the starting role for the duration of the Dodgers’ World Series run. Barnes played like a top ten catcher in 2017 hitting .289 with a stellar .408 on base percentage and a .486 slugging percentage.
Barnes is an athletic catcher who provides above average defense, pitch framing and blocking behind the plate for the Dodgers. At the catcher position, defense is a priority for any team and for the Dodgers so is pitch framing. That is why they acquired Russell Martin who is weak offensively but still an above average defender and pitch framer.
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Austin Barnes will likely get the first crack at the starting catcher role and he should given the flashes of brilliance he showed in 2017. Although he struggled this past season, his 2017 season gives the Dodgers plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The biggest thing for Barnes is finding the middle ground between his 2017 and 2018 season. If he can find that middle ground then the Dodgers will be more than fine at catcher.
In 2018, Barnes struggled hitting .205 with a measly .290 slugging percentage. While his on base skills still showed up, his bat was nearly non-existent in 2018. Part of his 2018 struggles appear to be some bad luck as his .287 BABIP is below average and his 2017 BABIP was above average at .329.
Although Barnes’ hard hit percentage was around 31% in both 2017 and 2018, he hit 7% more ground balls in 2018 and also saw his strikeout rate increase from 16% to 28%. If Austin can cut down on his strikeouts and hit fewer ground balls in 2019 then he should be one step closer to finding the middle ground between his breakout 2017 season and his disappointing 2018 season.
Prior to the 2018 season there was a debate about if Barnes should start over Yasmani Grandal. Grandal of course bounced back from his 2017 postseason and cashed out in free agency with the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2019, Barnes will once again enter the season in the conversation to start, only this time his chances are much greater. If he can find the middle ground between his last two seasons then the Dodgers will be more than fine at catcher.