After officially being named the backup catcher for the beginning of the 2017 season by skipper Dave Roberts in early December, many fans of the Dodgers were left wondering exactly what to expect from Austin Barnes, especially when considering his highly regarded potential and versatile ability to contribute all around the diamond.
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 Triple-A Oklahoma City, in addition to making one start in center field. Barnes was also one of seven rookies on the Dodgers’ 2016 NLDS roster.
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 promise.
For Oklahoma City last year, the 27-year-old right-handed hitting Barnes hit .295/.380/.443 in 85 games over 385 plate appearances, stealing a surprising 18 bases while primarily batting out of the two-hole.
Defensively, although he isn’t known for gunning down an overwhelming number of base-stealers, his release is quick enough to keep runners honest and his overall receiving skills and mechanics are excellent. He has a reliable glove in the infield and has more than held his own when used at second base at both levels.
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 while still in the Miami system.
Despite his skill at multiple positions, though, it’s unlikely that Barnes will be used frequently in the field, only because of the importance of having a backup catcher readily available for the sake of emergency. Yet to make sure that Yasmani Grandal stays fresh and at peak health over the course of the entire season, Barnes projects to get a start at least once every fourth or fifth day, most specifically against southpaw pitching.
And as it’s very unlikely the Dodgers utilize three catchers on the 25-man roster, Barnes will still get the opportunity to showcase his abilities at other positions during Cactus League play as well as in September when rosters expand, if the opportunity presents itself.
For those who are big fans of FanGraphs and Steamer projections, the 2017 lines have Barnes appearing in 47 games with 182 plate appearances, while slashing .253/.324/.377 and collecting four long balls in the process.
As far as the depth chart goes in the farm system, the Dodgers signed veteran backstop Bobby Wilson to a minor league deal back in early January. In addition to providing cover in case of injury, Wilson also appears likely to play the mentor role to youngsters Kyle Farmer and Jack Murphy at OKC.
(Follow Dennis on Twitter: @)