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.