A Quick Glance at the Dodgers’ Organizational Depth at Catcher

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(Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports)

While there aren’t an overwhelming number of trade rumors surrounding the Dodgers as this winter’s hot stove approaches, there has been a bit of conjecture regarding catcher Yasmani Grandal and whether or not he’ll last the entire season in Los Angeles.

The 29-year-old product of Cuba is embarking upon his seventh big league season, and this winter will mark his third bout with salary arbitration. At the end of his 2018 campaign, he’ll become a free agent, prompting many fans to believe the Dodgers will deal him to at least haul in some type of return as Austin Barnes continues as the club’s primary backstop.

In 2017, Grandal hit .247/.308/.459 with 22 long balls, but he set a career high in strikeouts with 130. He also set a personal high with 16 passed balls, which was one of several reasons that allowed Barnes to climb to the top of the catching hierarchy.

The dilemma in dealing Grandal sooner than later is having to face the task of determining whether or not 27-year-old utility man Kyle Farmer is ready for extended duty behind the dish in the majors. His bat is certainly capable, but although he caught 32 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, he saw action in just three games during his time in the big leagues. Without Grandal, though, the Dodgers would lose the option of having a catcher who can hit left-handed, although Barnes’ splits at the plate do show reverse tendencies.

If indeed Grandal is sent elsewhere, and Farmer becomes the understudy of Barnes, the catching crew at OKC could conceivably consist of 22-year-old Will Smith and 19-year-old Keibert Ruiz.

Ruiz began 2017 by slashing .317/372/.423 in 63 games for the Loons and was promoted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga on July 9. With the Quakes, Ruiz hit .315 with six homers, seven doubles, 27 RBI and 24 runs scored over 38 games. In 201 career minor-league games, the switch-hitting catcher has slashed .330 /.372/.461 with 11 homers, 53 doubles and 118 RBI. Offensive skills aside, he’s probably better known for his defense behind the dish, as he’s considered already to be an MLB-caliber receiver by most scouts within the organization. The native of Valencia, Venezuela was named the Dodgers’ 2017 Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year.

With Grandal still in the picture and Farmer beginning the season at OKC, Ruiz should have plenty of time to settle in at Double-A Tulsa, at least until some kind of move is made involving Grandal.

With Jack Murphy and Wynston Sawyer heading into free agency, and veteran Bobby Wilson facing either free agency or retirement, Smith is setting up to see considerable time at catcher for Oklahoma City. 2017 saw Smith battle a few injury setbacks, but he’s definitely healthy at the present juncture. Recently in the 2017 Arizona Fall League, Smith led the Glendale Desert Dogs in hitting at .371, after going 23-for-62 at the plate over 18 games played.

Despite Ruiz’s many accolades, some pundits still have Smith with the higher ceiling. Smith is a significantly better athlete than most catchers, with many scouts giving him plus grades for his speed. He has solid arm strength and such a quick transfer that he consistently delivers throws to second base in 1.9 seconds or less. He moves very well behind the plate and is a good receiver who capably handled several pro-caliber pitchers on Louisville’s staff. When hitting, Smith uses a compact right-handed stroke that enables him to make contact with ease. He’s more of an on-base machine than a power threat, though he has the ability to poke an occasional ball out of the park—all qualities reminiscent of Barnes at the big league level.

If he’s still around come spring, Paul Hoenecke could play a role at catcher in the upper-levels of the farm. Over six minor league seasons in the Dodgers’ system, the 27-year-old has hit .269/.317/.449 with 50 homers and 228 RBI in 439 games.

Further down on the totem pole is Garrett Kennedy, who hit .230/.322/.385 with eight long balls across two levels of the farm last season, and Brant Whiting, a 25-year-old backstop who spent most of the year at Low-A Great Lakes. With Kennedy, however, there may be a scenario where he comes back as a coach in the system after having battled an significant number of injuries over the past several seasons.

In an ideal scenario for the Dodgers, if Grandal is indeed moved, a trade won’t happen until the deadlines approach during the summer, affording Farmer the time to focus mainly on catching at the big league level, while giving Smith the time to transition to Triple-A.

Either way, 2018 will see a bit of restructuring in the Dodgers’ catching department, as a few of the youngsters who have been touted the past few years will finally be given a chance to climb to the higher levels of the organizational ladder.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)

 

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9 thoughts on “A Quick Glance at the Dodgers’ Organizational Depth at Catcher

  1. I can’t imagine a major league organization with more depth at catcher than the Dodgers. We’re headed to having an all-catcher lineup at some point. I guess Ruiz would have to be the catcher, but Smith can play 2nd or 3rd, Barnes can play 2nd and Farmer played all 4 infield positions at OKC last year. I just hope we properly identify the best of them because at least one or two of these guys will ultimately be traded. Good catchers are an excellent trade chip. I really wonder what Grandal would/could bring in a winter trade rather than waiting for July. I suppose the FO is exploring that as I write this. If they don’t think it’s enough, he’ll start the season in L.A. I bet the Nats would love to have him.

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      1. You’re right. We need to trade Ruiz. The number thing seems like an insurmountable problem. Of course, it’s possible that CK opts out after 2018 and signs with his hometown Rangers.

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  2. I for one cannot wait for Yasmani Grandgroundout to be an exe Dodger. I never have liked the guy and think the Kemp trade was one of the worst made by FAZ.

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    1. I’m guessing you’re more of an “old school” guy than a stats guy. The baseball world seems to be divided in that regard. WAR (which you probably hate as a measuring stick) shows Grandal has been the more valuable player since the trade. I have a friend who feels exactly the same way as you do. Smoke comes out of his ears every time he thinks about it. I really wish we could have seen how Kemp’s career would have played out if he hadn’t crashed into that wall and destroyed his shoulder. He was never quite the same after that. The good news for you is that, at the very worst, you’ll have to watch Grandal in blue for one more season. No way in the world they re-sign him. And if you’re really lucky, they trade him this winter or in July.

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      1. The thing that bothers me the most about Grandal is that he just seems to worsen every year. Last season saw him set career highs in strikeouts offensively and passed balls on defense. There’s no question that he has excellent catching mechanics mechanics and that he has a bit of pop, but he just makes too many bone-headed moves. Like the time last July when he pounded his bat into the ground after striking out in frustration, only to jam his hand a bit and miss the subsequent game because of soreness. The worst thing about that? Two nights later he went slamming his bat into the ground again after getting fooled by a curveball. Think a little, man!

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      2. Depending upon how you feel about him, that’s either passion for the game or a really boneheaded maneuver. What do you think they could get for him in a trade Dennis? Pull a name or two out of the hat.

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      3. I think rival execs know that the Dodgers would like to move him, so everybody and their brother are gonna try to lowball Farhan and Andrew. Plus, Grandal would be nothing more than a rental to the club receiving him. On the other hand, a contending club heading into the trade deadline in need of a catcher could make a decent proposal. I would hope the Dodgers look for either a solid second base or third base prospect, or maybe even a hard-throwing relief arm in return.

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      4. As you said, he seems to be getting worse every year. The problem with not trading him now is that he may have a poor first half and then be even harder to trade. I think they should move him now for whatever they can get for him. I admit it might be risky but I would take the chance.

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