The Los Angeles Dodgers remain one of the most blessed franchises behind the plate. While the rest of baseball is struggling to produce a single passable catcher, Los Angeles has homegrown All-Star Will Smith at the position, with top prospects Diego Cartaya and Dalton Rushing coming through the pipeline.
In fact, LA's been so good at prioritizing catcher that they've brought a blocked Keibert Ruiz to the big leagues, giving Andrew Friedman a chance to flip him for Max Scherzer/Trea Turner. They've grown catchers in four distinct cycles. They're doing alright.
But, as we've worried this season about the current farm system being not quite what it's been cracked up to be and coasting on reputation, it's fair to mention Cartaya's season. Still just 21 years old, the electric masher has hit only .190 at Double-A Tulsa with 11 homers and 37 RBI. Rushing, with a .420 OBP and .882 OPS a level below, has outperformed his counterpart.
There is plenty of time left in Cartaya's journey. There is also less than zero need to rush his progress. But, following the demotion of Miguel Vargas, the softening of James Outman's initial burst, and any number of mix-and-match pitching promotions that have gone sour, sweet, and sour again, it seems the no-longer-teenaged catcher has cast more doubt on future projections.
FanGraphs ran a column on the biggest declines (so far) among hitters in their 2024 projections, from figures produced at the beginning of this season to new numbers from its midway point. In a crowded field of big-league regressions (Kris Bryant, DJ LeMahieu, George Springer, etc.), Cartaya was one of very few prospects to appear out of nowhere in the midst of the rankings.
Dodgers catching prospect Diego Cartaya might not be primed for such a big 2024
Cartaya now shares an unfortunate brotherhood with Padres-turned-Nationals prospect Robert Hassell III. Hassell was the highest-ranking prospect flop, finishing with the ninth-largest projected decrease (0.9 fWAR to -0.3 fWAR). The Dodgers' catcher clocks in at 0.6 to -0.5, a significant loss of 1.11.
Now, this supposes, of course, that Cartaya is in the big leagues next season. That's where expectations may have changed. Before the season, it was assumed that if Cartaya played in MLB in 2024, he'd put up passable (but unspectacular) stats in an end-of-season call-up. Now, it seems he needs a little more time, and would struggle in the same time frame (say, August and September only).
This is far from a death sentence for Cartaya's chances, nor is it an indictment on the Dodgers' farm. It's simply a notice that his 2023 hasn't gone so well, and he might not be as far along, or as close to promotion, as the FanGraphs staff believed he was this past offseason.
Still ... it hurts to see him on a list of regressing veterans out of the blue.