The Dodgers chose to bring Russell Martin back to compete with Austin Barnes for the starting catcher role. So far, the job has looked like Austin Barnes’ job to lose.
The Dodgers knew this off-season that their catchers of the future were waiting in the wings with Will Smith and Kiebert Ruiz still in need of more minor league seasoning. After engaging with the Marlins for trade talks involving J.T. Realmuto the Dodgers were not going to meet the Marlins’ high asking price so they brought an old friend back in Russell Martin.
This spring the starting catcher role was supposed to be a battle but with Russell Martin missing time due to injury and Austin Barnes delivering a strong spring performance so far, the starting catcher role is all but locked up for Austin Barnes. This was exactly what the Dodgers were hoping for when they decided to give Barnes a chance to rebound from a rough 2018 season.
Way back in November, I mentioned that Barnes was most likely the best starting catcher option for the Dodgers. The free agent market was very weak outside of Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal and the Dodgers were not going to give either a lucrative long term deal with Ruiz just a year away and Smith ready as early as the middle of this season.
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The other factor is that Austin Barnes was very good in 2017. He supplanted Yasmani Grandal as the starting catcher at the end of the 2017 season and continued to start through LA’s World Series run. In exactly 109 at-bats against both right and left-handed pitching, he posted a .902 OPS against righties and a .886 OPS against lefties.
Factor in being one of the best catchers defensively and pitch framing wise according to StatCorner, and Barnes is a very solid stopgap option at catcher for the Dodgers. While his 2018 season was putrid offensively, Austin still ranked as the third best catcher defensively. If he can hit better than he did last year then the Dodgers will be very solid at catcher this season.
Austin Barnes has hit .323 this spring and took the team lead in spring RBI’s with his two-run homer yesterday. The home run was Austin’s second of the spring and drove in his eleventh and twelfth runs of the spring. While spring training stats don’t always translate to the regular season, the Dodgers are hoping Barnes’ strong spring carries over.
Outside of looking much better at the plate, Barnes has also looked very good behind the plate. In Saturday’s game he blocked multiple pitches in the dirt from Tony Gonsolin and on one he picked the ball up and threw a strike to third base to nab out the Chicago baserunner. If the Dodgers get the 2017 version of Austin Barnes in 2019, Yasmani Grandal will be an afterthought.