As quiet as the offseason has been so far, one of the main focuses of the Dodgers management crew is trying to snag an experienced catcher for the upcoming campaign. Many thought Wilson Ramos, who recently signed a two-year pact with the Mets, was a perfect fit, despite his intentions to remain on the East Coast. But even if Los Angeles is able to land a gem via trade or free agency, what would happen in the event of an injury?
Perhaps the more important question lies in determining whether or not 28-year-old utility man Kyle Farmer is ready for extended duty behind the dish at the major league level. His bat is certainly capable, but although he caught 29 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, he saw action at catcher in just four games over two seasons in the big leagues.
Certainly, Farmer profiles much better as a utility type who has the ability to serve as a backstop option in the event of an emergency, which adds to his value. Many wonder why the Georgia native is even lingering on the 40-man roster, but it could be for this exact reason. Others are saying that the Dodgers are hanging onto Farmer and Rocky Gale in case they don’t add an experienced catcher, but the reality is that the situation could conceivably worsen in the event of an injury of a new acquisition, or even if something unfortunate happens to Austin Barnes.
Just a few weeks ago, Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group asked Andrew Friedman about the future of the club’s highly touted catching prospects. Friedman surprisingly stated that he expects 23-year-old Will Smith to make an impact in 2019 with the big league squad. He added that crown gem catcher Keibert Ruiz is a bit farther behind, implying that 2020 may be more realistic.
Despite these arrival estimates, Ruiz is on the 40-man roster and Smith is not, at least for the moment. The good news for Smith is that he can also capably field both second and third base, but the bad news is that the Dodgers have quite the surplus of utility infielders already in Max Muncy, Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor to move around the infield. So, my guess is that Smith may be utilized solely for his catching duties in 2019, if Friedman’s ETA is indeed accurate.
In spite of 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 and quickness, much like Barnes. Smith has much better arm strength, though. His transfer is impressive, as he consistently delivers throws to second base in 1.9 seconds or less. He moves very well behind the plate and is often praised for his receiving skills. 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, despite his 20 long balls in the minors last year.
Beyond Smith and Ruiz are Diego Cartaya and Connor Wong, whose presences illustrate just how deep the Dodgers are at catcher on the farm. According to MLB Pipeline, Cartaya is ranked as the 11th best overall system in the system while Wong is rated as the 16th best. We took a closer look at Cartaya just a few weeks ago.
Still, all the depth does the Dodgers no good right now at the big league level. Either way, 2019 may see a bit of restructuring in the Dodgers’ catching department, as we could finally see a trade—in the event of a deal for a star catcher—or maybe somebody like Smith will finally be given a chance to climb to the higher levels of the organizational ladder.
Regardless, keeping a potential injury(s) in mind, it stresses just how important it is for Los Angeles to somehow snag a catcher who’s able to productively contribute right now—both offensively and defensively.