Once highly touted for his offensive prowess and his ability to field multiple positions, Austin Barnes gave the impression that he was in the big leagues to stay after a quality 2017 season campaign when he saw playing time in 102 games.
During that year, Barnesy slashed .289/.408/.486 with eight long balls and 32 doubles and ultimately became the Dodgers‘ primary catcher when Yasmani Grandal was unable to produce later in the postseason.
However, the 29-year-old Fullerton native was never able to improve upon or even duplicate his benchmark 2017 campaign. In 2018, he hit just .205/.329/.290 with four homers and five doubles in nearly the same amount of appearances. Through 70 games and 233 plate appearances this season, he was slashing a meager .196/.288/.328, giving the parent squad no other option except to explore alternative options behind the plate.
Despite his outstanding defensive mechanics and strong ability to call a game, management decided to option Barnes to Triple-A Oklahoma City on July 25 and recalled rookie Will Smith, hoping the latter would deliver some much-needed offense out of the primary catching spot.
And we all know how that turned out.
Nevertheless, we certainly haven’t seen the last of Barnes this season. Rosters expand on September 1, and Barnes will likely be recalled to the big league roster, so long as Oklahoma City will be able to fill his spot with a body to do some catching. The recall will be an audition of sorts to give him a chance to reclaim a spot on the 2019 playoff roster.
There’s a slim—very slim, I might add—possibility the Dodgers carry three catchers on the 2019 NLDS roster. That’s if all three stay healthy throughout the remainder of the season. Secondly, Barnes could find himself in direct competition with either Smith or Russell Martin for a postseason roster spot. Team management has already stated they love Martin’s veteran presence and leadership; plus, we all know that Smith isn’t going anywhere, especially if he continues to produce offensively at his current pace.
Regardless, Barnes has found his groove at the plate at OKC since his demotion. In 50 AB over 13 games, he’s slashing .300/.418/.636 with five homers, three doubles, 10 walks and 15 RBI. He has also fielded three games at second base.
His five jacks at Triple-A match the five he hit in the bigs this year (in about 150 less AB), but the Pacific Coast League just happens to have a reputation of being very hitter-friendly. Plus, the overall pitching in the PCL isn’t even close to the caliber a hitter would see in the majors.
Still, Barnesy will get his chance for redemption in a few short weeks. At the moment, the cards are by no means stacked in his favor, but we have seen stranger things happen at the beginning of the playoffs in past years.
Either way, it will definitely be fun watching all three catchers battle it out during the month of September for the right to be the No. 1 backstop.