(Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)
After a total of six seasons in minor league ball and his frequent fluctuations between the bigs and the farm over the last two campaigns, skipper Dave Roberts officially named Austin Barnes the Dodgers‘ backup catcher last week in an interview conducted at the Winter Meetings in Maryland.
“He’s very athletic. There’s his bat-to-ball skills, pitch recognition, pitch framing ability, the athleticism. There’s a lot to like in Austin Barnes,” Roberts said. “It’s his time.”
Even though backup catchers are generally used conservatively for the sake of being available in the event of injury, Roberts implied that Barnes’ versatility may become a factor when considering his usage for next season.
“A guy like Austin that can play third base, he can play second base, he can catch; certainly I like that flexibility,” Roberts explained.
After all the dust finally settled on the trade that sent Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas to the Marlins in exchange for Barnes, Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher and Enrique Hernandez in December of 2014, Barnes could conceivably be the Dodgers’ jewel of the deal, especially considering his offensive capabilities from the right side of the dish.
Although his .180 average over 74 plate appearances in the majors is still a relatively small sample size, Barnes’ .299/.388/.439 career slash line in the minors certainly suggests signs of potential.
For Triple-A Oklahoma City last year, the soon to be 27-year-old hit .295/.380/.443 in 85 games over 385 plate appearances, stealing a surprising 18 bases while primarily batting out of the two-hole.
Originally selected in the ninth round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Marlins out of Arizona State University, Barnes’ best year on the farm came in 2014 when he slashed .304/.398/.472 with 31 doubles, 13 home runs and 57 RBI in 122 combined games between the High-A Jupiter Hammerheads and the Double-A Jacksonville Suns.
Here’s a brief scouting report put together by John Sickels of minorleagueball.com at the conclusion of 2016 spring camp:
“Barnes is one of the best kept secrets in baseball. He’s an older prospect but has always performed well and has nothing left to prove in the minors. He is a line drive hitter with excellent strike zone judgment. He has some power. He runs really well for a catcher and can swipe a base. Although he doesn’t have an exceptional arm and isn’t a serial stealer killer, his release is quick enough to keep runners honest and his overall receiving skills are solid. He has experience in the infield and has more than held his own when used at second base. I don’t know what it will take for Barnes to get a job, but at worst he’s a sharp super-utility player and he could start for some teams.”
During the 2016 regular season, Barnes played nine games at catcher for the Dodgers, seven at second base and one at third. He recorded time at those same three positions with Oklahoma City, in addition to making one start in center field. Barnes was also one of seven rookies on the Dodgers’ 2016 NLDS roster.
As far as the depth chart goes in the Dodgers’ farm system, Kyle Farmer and Jack Murphy will presumably handle the majority of the catching duties at the Triple-A level, unless some type of transaction is made between now and spring training.
Sixth-year catcher Yasmani Grandal will handle the primary catching duties at the major league level.