Dodgers Prospect Watch: Can Will Smith Hit Major League Pitching?

(Photo Credit: Tomo San/Los Angeles Dodgers)

While many fans of the Dodgers probably think a conversation about next year’s catching picture is irrelevant, there are certainly a few relative factors that play into the remainder of the 2018 season’s landscape. The four biggest questions which pertain to many of the upcoming discussions over the winter are whether or not management will pursue a contact with Yasmani Grandal, if the coaching staff will ever trust Kyle Farmer defensively behind the plate, if Austin Barnes‘ 2018 season is simply an anomaly, and whether or not Will Smith can hit big league pitching.

Grandal will turn 30 years of age this November, and there’s no question he will be looking for a multiple-year deal. Many folks believe the Dodgers won’t have any interest in the switch-hitter, but depending on a few other factors, he could conceivably be the best option available to the club. His arm is still solid, and despite an increasing occurrences of passed balls and errors, his receiving and framing skills are above average. And, although he’s just a .241 career hitter, he’s pretty  much good for 20 doubles and 20 long balls per season. The team likely doesn’t have a problem giving him a deal over three or four years, but Farmer, Smith and Keibert Ruiz are still hanging around, which may indicate they could be viewed as a big part of the Dodgers’ future.

To some extent, Farmer has already proven that he can handle duties at the big league level, but it seems as if management sees him as more of a utility player than a catcher. He has played more than 155 career innings at the major league level, but he has been permitted to catch just nine full frames during that time. Third base seems to be his most frequented big league spot, as he has appeared in 23 contests there and has logged more than 137 innings of work. In 2018, his defensive numbers at OKC haven’t been that bad, as he’s allowed just four passed balls and committed two errors while throwing out nine of 29 base-stealers over 248 innings behind the plate. Yet, because of his versatility, we may never know how he can handle big league pitching as a receiver.

Barnes’ 2018 season, at least from an offensive standpoint, has been a total disappointment, which makes this whole conversation very much relevant right now. He calls a fine game and is more than adequate defensively; however, those qualities aren’t enough to see frequent playing time on many of today’s clubs around the league. In more than 100 games and 260 plate appearances last year, Barnes hit an impressive .289/.408/.486 while striking out just 43 times, but so far this year, he’s hitting only .200/.340/.247 while striking out 55 times with more than 30 games remaining on the schedule. What’s more, he’s hitting just .156 against right-handed pitching this year, which brings his stock down even more in terms of versatility. It could be the lack of consistent playing time that’s hindering his success, but whatever the case may be, it’s certainly difficult for the Dodgers to look past Grandal and view Barnes as the best option heading into the 2019 season.

Seemingly, Smith surged past Ruiz on the catching depth chart this year, but because Smith isn’t on the 40-man roster, he may not be ranked highly by management. Plus, he probably won’t be seen on the roster with all of the other call-ups in September. Smith garnered an invite to big league spring training this year, and he was impressive with both his defense and game-calling skills, but he struggled offensively, going just 3-for-16 with two doubles, one long ball and one RBI. It’s indeed a small sample size, which leaves everyone wondering how he would actually fare over the course of an entire year. Before his latest promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, the 23-year-old hit .264/.358/.532 with an extremely impressive 19 long balls at Tulsa, but has hit just .143/.189/.204 since arriving at OKC on August 1.

Looking ahead, with the tables turning on the 2018 season, Grandal is the primary catcher at a point when Barnes was seeing the most action in 2017. Over his last 13 games, Barnes is hitting just .130, having gone just three for his last 23, yet he’s seeing almost all the starts against left-handing pitching. Farmer could be a better option on offense, but there’s that trust factor when it comes to receiving. As far as Smith goes, it may take some time to find how how high his ceiling actually is. Nevertheless, with the club needing to create some momentum and make up a bit of ground in the divisional race, an offensive upgrade behind Grandal at this point would definitely be welcomed.


21 thoughts on “Dodgers Prospect Watch: Can Will Smith Hit Major League Pitching?

  1. So we’re already looking forward to next year! Only 184 days till pitchers and catchers report. Can’t wait!

    1. FIRST SENTENCE OF THE STORY: “While many fans of the Dodgers probably think a conversation about next year’s catching picture is irrelevant, there are certainly a few relative factors that play into the remainder of the 2018 season’s landscape.”

      1. LAST SENTENCE OF THE STORY: “Nevertheless, with the club needing to create some momentum and make up a bit of ground in the divisional race, an offensive upgrade behind Grandal at this point would definitely be welcomed.”

  2. Dennis, you seem to think that the front office would consider a 3-4 year contract for Grandal. I could see a 2 year deal, but I don’t see them giving him more than that and I do think some other team or teams would definitely offer him 3-4 years. So I guess we disagree on this one. I think Friedman figures that either Smith or Ruiz will be the first string catcher by sometime in 2020 or opening day 2021 at the very latest. Under normal circumstances, we could put up with Barnes’ non existent offense this year and just take advantage of his defense, but the entire team offense can’t get out of first gear so we need everyone we can muster. I don’t think Smith is ready so that would seem to leave only Farmer. I’m willing to try that.

    Question for the assembled multitude: If things go really south over the next week and we find ourselves 7-8 games off the division lead with 6 teams in front of us for the wildcard on Aug 29-30, would you consider trying to move Machado, Dozier, Ryu and/or Grandal before the end of the month? All of them would be valuable for the remaining contenders in both leagues and I’m sure we could get something for them. Or, even being that far out, would you rather keep those guys in the hopes that we make a great run in September?

    1. Andrew Friedman on the team’s string of late losses over past 10 days: “Those things have happened. They’re in the bank. But as we look ahead, we feel really good about all facets of our team and feel we will click and play really good baseball down the stretch.”

  3. Sorry but this Dodger team is toast. Crappy clutch hitting and a crappy bullpen does not equal a 10 game winning streak which is what it will take to get into the playoffs now. Viva 2019!

      1. The team’s inconsistency is exactly what might save them. They look like World Series champs for part of the season, then they have a period where they look like they couldn’t survive the Little League World Series. The talent is there and they just need to play the last 5 weeks at a level commensurate with their actual ability. Personally I think the odds they make the playoffs are about 50-50 but neither outcome would surprise me in the least.

  4. Last year they seemed to come from behind so often and this year you can sense they are waiting for something bad to happen at the end of close games. Don’t know how much is mental and a lack of confidence. Since we got to that 10-12 games above .500 just no consistency with them at all. Definite gut check time!

    1. I believe they’re going to make a run for it but that’s only because no one else really does. It’s fun being a contrarian.

  5. This time last year we lost like 16 of 17. Of course, this time last year we had a 50 game lead in the West.

    I look forward to some inspired play in September. Not sure if it will be the Dodgers doing it, but somebody will and I look forward to it.

  6. It’s time to bring up The Big K. Kasowski had another 2 scoreless innings for Tulsa last night. In 8 appearances over 10 innings he’s now given up 1 run and only 1 hit (a homer) and has struck out 16 batters. His only shortcoming is the 9 walks he’s given up, which of course could turn into a major problem. His ERA is .087. His batting average against is .033!

    1. Only one problem with your choices Steve, we’d have to dig up Alston, keep Tommy awake for more than an inning and Maddon has a contract with another team. And although Roberts has made some mistakes, he isn’t the one swinging the bat and he isn’t the one blowing the games in the 8th and 9th innings. And he’s used every guy on his roster so it isn’t as though he isn’t using the guys he should and benching the wrong guys. I think it’s time we started blaming the players for underperforming. Just my opinion. Feel free to disagree.

      1. I agree to disagree. They had their shot at Maddon and blew it, It would have been an Alston/LaSorda reincarnation. Third place in its present form is NO PLACE.

      2. Why not give someone like Davey Lopes a shot?He’s a Dodger,and he might try to manufacture runs.Bunting,sacrifice,steal bases.Instead of waiting for 3 run home runs.

      3. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Dusty yet. He’s had a heck of a lot more success as a manager than Davey has. That said, why is everyone blaming the manager and not the ballplayers? I can’t remember where I saw it, but someone posted ratings of clutch (I think based on RISP numbers) hitting by team. Dodgers rated dead last in the majors. That isn’t Roberts’ fault. When Alexander and Floro and Chargois and everyone else was blowing saves, we said it was the front office’s fault for not having another guy as good as Kenley. And then we get Kenley back and he’s just as bad as the other guys. The reason we’re 4.5 games behind the Dbacks is because our baseball players, as a team, have played lousy baseball, both at the beginning of the season and since the All Star break. Can they fix it and come back to win the division or at least be in the wild card game? Absolutely. Will they? Stay tuned.

      4. Because they’re being instructed to hit with higher launch angles and to their power zones while ignoring the basics like advancing baserunners. Not the players’ faults, and not Roberts’ either. Some of the players dont even know where they’ll bat or even play on a given night. But then you have guys like Machado who can apparently hit wherever they want in the lineup.

      5. Bellinger, CT3, Grandal, Kike, Joc, Puig, JT, Barnes were all here last year and the team seemed to function well. Now we have Machado for Seager, Dozier for Forsythe and Kemp for Agon/Granderson/Gutierrez. Those substitutions should be a net positive. Are you saying that the hitting strategy has changed markedly from last year? I really don’t see strategy having changed. I do see players not performing the way they have in the past, in most cases individually but for sure as a unit. Our secret weapon is reversion to the mean. Only question is will it happen in September or not until 2019. Of course the other possibility is that we were very lucky last year and what we see now is actually the true talent level. I really hope that when Verdugo and Toles arrive in September that they’re given a good amount of playing time. Maybe they can show the vets how it’s supposed to be done.

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