At the beginning of 2019 spring training, no one knew for sure who would be patrolling the keystone for the Dodgers by the time Opening Day rolled around. Many felt that it would be a combination of players. Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor would battle it out for the bulk of playing time while Max Muncy—who was considered a defensive liability by many—was also in the mix for reps.
The outlook at catcher was much more clear. Austin Barnes had dedicated much of his winter repairing his swing mechanics, and veteran Russell Martin was acquired to back him up. When Martin fell victim to back spasms early in the season, the club called upon minor league journeyman Rocky Gale to cover the gap, giving fans a general idea how the catching picture could play out for the remainder of the season.
Now, as the Dodgers prepare for the start of the 2019 NLDS against the Nationals, Gavin Lux is lining up as the primary second baseman against right-handed pitching while Will Smith is expected to see most of the time at catcher.
Just two weeks ago, Lux was named as the Dodgers’ Minor League Player of the Year. His ascension to the bigs is one for the history books.
He started his 2019 season with Double-A Tulsa batting .313 (81-for-259) with 13 home runs and 37 RBI over 64 games. The left-handed hitter was selected to the Texas League All-Star Game while also appearing in the 2019 Futures Game.
The 21-year-old Wisconsin native was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City on June 27 and went on to hit .392 (78-for-232) with 13 home runs and 39 RBI over 49 contests. Among Pacific Coast League batters with at least 200 plate appearances, he ranked second in average (.392), first in OBP (.478), fourth in slugging percentage (.719) and third in OPS (1.197).
Lux was named the 2019 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .347 (159-for-458) with 26 homers and 76 RBI in 113 combined games between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. He was the third Dodger to win the award since its inception in 1981, joining Mike Marshall in 1981 and Paul Konerko in 1997.
Lux made his major league debut on September 2, going 2-for-5 with three runs, becoming the first Dodger in franchise history to score three runs in his big league debut. He finished the regular season by slashing .240/.305/.400 with two homers, four doubles and nine RBI over 75 AB in 23 games.
Smith did not have nearly as many accolades as Lux, but the rise to the bigs for the Kentucky native was still a surprising one, as many felt that Barnes had the starting role cemented down for the entirety of the season.
After a slow start at OKC, Smith bounced back to stay red-hot through the middle of the year. He was named to the Pacific Coast league All-Star squad, accumulating 20 long balls while tallying an impressive .603 slugging percentage through the first 62 games of the season. In turn, the Dodgers noticed his productivity at the plate and were already aware of his superior receiving skills on the defensive side of the game. With Barnes battling most of the season to stay near the Mendoza line, Los Angeles finally gave Smith the promotion to the majors.
Pundits weren’t exactly sure how long Smith’s stay would last, but his immediate offensive production forced the team in keeping him at the big league level.
Over his first 100 plate appearances as a big leaguer, Smith hit .321/.398/.810 with 11 homers, eight doubles and 30 RBI. The right-handed hitting Kentucky native came back down to earth to finish the season, though, putting up overall numbers of .253/.337/.571 with 15 home runs, nine doubles and 42 RBI in 54 games.
What’s more, when the team officially announces the remainder of its roster on Thursday morning, it could include the names of up to three more rookies. Both Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May are competing for playoff roster spots on the pitching staff, while utility man Matt Beaty could be among the position player selections. Many close to the club feel that at least two of the three will be included on the final NLDS roster.