A Glance at the Organization’s Catching Depth

(Photo Credit: Keith Birmingham/SCNG)

As the 2020 roster conjecture is just beginning to heat up, one of the early conversations stirring surrounds how the Dodgers might handle the future duties at catcher.

As it stands now, the starting catching job belongs to Will Smith. Heading into spring training the job is certainly his to lose. After setting Los Angeles on fire in his first weeks as a big leaguer right after the All-Star break, the 24-year-old Louisville product settled down to slash .253/.337/.571. However, he did manage to slug 15 long balls and 42 RBI in just 54 games, which is a huge offensive upgrade from what the team had out of the catching spot in recent years. On top of that, his mechanics and throwing arm are considered top-notch by MLB standards.

As far as prospects go, 21-year-old Keibert Ruiz is ranked among the organization’s Top 3 farmhands. Right after being promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City at the midway point of 2019, the  switch-hitting native of Venezuela broke a finger on his throwing hand, causing him to miss the remainder of the regular season. Across two levels of the farm last year, he hit .261/.331/.361 with six long balls and 34 RBI over 314 AB in 85 games.

Ruiz is already part of the 40-man roster, but chances are very slim he’ll be on the big league active roster come Opening Day. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean he won’t see any major league action at some point next year.

All that said, the biggest question mark heading into 2020 is determining which player backs up Smith in the bigs, at least for the early part of the year. A few weeks back, we talked about the inclusion of either Austin Barnes or Russell Martin on next year’s roster. Conceivably, the Dodgers could go with either player as the No. 2. Or, they may elect to go with a different option altogether and scour the free agent market for a better fit.

Last year, Martin hit .220 with six long balls in 209 AB. Barnes hit .203 with five homers in 212 major league AB. Barnes has no options on his contract, so if he is tendered a contract in the coming weeks, that means he’ll need to stay on the 26-man roster for the entirety of the season, unless the team decides to cut ties with him.

Underneath Ruiz on the depth chart is Connor Wong, who may conceivably start the 2020 season at the Triple-A level. Across two levels last year, the 23-year-old righty hitter slashed .281/.336/.541 with 24 doubles, seven triples, 24 homers and 82 RBI, in addition to stealing 11 bases. He was a mid-season All-Star for the Cal League and was named an organizational All-Star by MiLB.com at the end of the year. In the first week of September, Wong collected Player of the Week honors in the Texas League.

If there’s a knock on Wong, it’s that his catching mechanics and arm strength aren’t anywhere near those of Smith and Ruiz. Nevertheless, Wong saw some significant time at both second or third base last year, indicating that the organization may be considering him in other capacities.

Proceeding downward—or upward, in the eyes of some—we come across Diego Cartaya, a 18-year-old backstop from Venezuela who some pundits consider one of the best prospects in the Los Angeles system.

The right-handed hitting Cartaya began his endeavors this year in the Dominican Summer League, but he arrived on United States soil just in time to provide a decent sample size in the 2019 Arizona Rookie League. There, as a 17-year-old, he slashed .281/.343/.432 with four homers, 12 doubles and two triples over just 49 games. Additionally, he threw out nine of 37 would-be base-stealers, which isn’t too shabby since he’s competing with many prospects several years older than him.

Now that he’s 18, the Dodgers may loosen the reigns a bit on the youngster. In theory, Cartaya may start out in the AZL League and move up to Rookie League at Ogden later in the year; or, the Dodgers may elect to bump him up to Low-A Great Lakes immediately.

Even below Cartaya, there still remains some impressive names. A pair of left-handed hitting catchers, Tre Todd and Hunter Feduccia, were both snagged in the 2018 draft. In addition, Gersel Pitre is still around. The righty hitting Pitre was signed as free agent out of Venezuela as a 17 year old way back in 2013.

As far as the backup spot goes in the big leagues next year, I think that Barnes will be tendered a contract and get the nod out of spring training, so long that he’s healthy and can produce reasonably during Cactus League play. If Barnes performs poorly over the first several months of the regular season, Ruiz could be ready for a promotion.

Notwithstanding, because of the lack of players who are not MLB-ready, the team may decide to snag a veteran free agent backstop sometime over the next two months.



32 thoughts on “A Glance at the Organization’s Catching Depth

  1. We can add one more to the bottom of the list, 16 year old Venezuelan catcher Yeiner Fernandez, signed in July. He has some decent credentials, although nowhere near what Cartaya has.
    After having thought Wong was basically a throw away piece, I’ve come to see him as having some potential, if not here, at least as part of a trade package. It has to be depressing for a kid with some decent ability to know that he has at least three young guys ahead of him in the rankings. He’d probably love to go somewhere else and then make the Dodgers look bad by becoming a better player than the guys the kept.

    1. I still would like to see Smith and Ruiz on the big club. I don’t think it will happen as typically most teams hire the veteran slug for backup duty. This year I would do it differently. I think Ruiz is ready to face ML pitching and he will hit as well as the combination of Martin and Barnes did. Let him get familiar with the staff early and will do fine behind the plate. This is of course assuming his hand is fully healed.

      Needs for LA according to the Athletic? Bullpen. Targets: Kirby Yates, Ken Giles, Will Smith, Dellin Betances, Will Harris

  2. Dont think we want 2 young catchers on the roster, especially when neither one has displayed much hitting ability. League caught up to smith real quick and he became our 3rd Mendoza line catcher. If he isn’t able to adjust he’ll become another barnes. Ruiz is even younger and has a way to go offensively. Hitting is always tough on young catchers because the defensive side is so daunting. Martin is probably the best choice until we see how the 2 youngsters turn out.

    1. Like I said, I don’t believe they will do it. But I would. Slash lines – Martin, .220/.337/.330. Barnes .203/..293/.340. I’m thinking Ruiz could do better than that and get valuable experience. He’s young, but he’s got 5 years in the minors.

      I agree about Smith. When he was OPS’n over 1.000, in July, I kept telling everybody here to just wait, the league would catch up to him. It did, but not until late August. I think it would be cool to see these two split time. I’m all in on Ruiz. His hit tool rating is a 55. His ETA is 2020. We will see him this coming year, but probably not until late. We’ll sign a stiff for back up, maybe even Martin again. Molina was up at 21. Heck, Johnny Bench was up at 19.

      1. He’s from Southern California. You can bet he will talk with the Padres. Can they afford him? Angels will likely be looking to sign Cole. That leaves us. He’s 32 next year and with his history it’s not likely he throws 200 innings many more times if at all. My general feeling about players is try to gather talent that is on its way up. It’s the rare pitcher that continues his 20’s numbers into his 30’s. We are already paying one 32 year old over $30 million for diminishing WAR. Can we afford 2 of them? If I thought he was the piece that put us over the top I would say do it. But with this group? Nope.

      2. The Angels will probably be very interested in Strasburg if they can’t sign Cole. They absolutely have to get some pitching and I’m sure Maddon won’t keep quiet about that.
        I wonder what Wheeler will ask for. For a few weeks now I’ve had this thing in the back of my head that says he might be the guy we go after. The exciting news is that he isn’t repped by Boras.
        It will be fascinating to watch the Boras scenario play out. Since he reps a huge majority of the upper end free agents this year, will he manage to keep everything stalled until very late and then create a bidding frenzy for all of his guys, or will some teams wait for a while and then say “screw you, we just won’t wait any longer, we’re out”?

      3. Good question Jefe. I just don’t see Friedman playing that game. We are a 106 win one Doc gag away from another WS appearance. I’m thinking he goes after Wheeler early, maybe tries to convince Ryu to stay, signs someone like Betances and says “come get us NL West”.

      4. I agree Scoop. AF might very well throw a strong offer at Wheeler early and give him a definite time period to take it or leave it. I think he’ll do the same with Ryu although he may very well not want to go as many years as others might. On the other hand Ryu loves it here. Time will tell.
        I’ve been thinking about Betances also. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see us make him an offer. Another wild card is Drew Pomeranz (lefty) who was extremely mediocre as a starter last year but when shifted to the bullpen became really special.

    2. I believe you are way off about Smith there Gordon, and .253 is no where near the Mendoza line. He hit more HR’s than Martin and Barnes combined and never let the slump interfere with his fielding. His AB’s towards the end of the year were pretty good, he just was hitting in a lot of bad luck. He also almost won game 5 of the NLDS with a shot to right that fell just short. I have no doubt the experience he gained will be very valuable in his progression in the majors. Martin can no longer play more than a couple of games a week. He is a solid player, but way past his prime. I play Smith 90 percent of the time. The kid has good power and a pretty good eye at the plate and defensively, he is 10 times the catcher Grandal was.

      1. I say Smith does not repeat his .907 OPS next year. 6 years in the minors he OPSd .784. I think he will be closer to that than .907. And no catcher will play 90% of the time. Nobody on the Dodgers plays 90% of the time. Bellinger came the closest with 661 plate appearances. (Approximately 84%). Smith will obviously get the majority of time behind the plate. Unless we trade him. Blockbuster for Mookie, Lindor, or Treinen.

      2. Padres are going to pursue Strasburg according to MLBrumors.com. Ok with me…..they are losers anyway.

  3. I don’t think Smith will repeat, but I do think Smith is going to be a very good MLB catcher. I do not know what Ruiz will turn out to be. Projections are just that. Projections. Nothing more. I have seen way too many players who were projected to be something special who flamed out fast, and others who became pretty good players. I am of the school that I will believe it when I see it.

    1. Yeah, that’s true. And I will admit Smith surprised me. Heck, he surprised everybody. He might be the catcher of the future. But my money is still on Ruiz. Last year MLB had Ruiz #3, Smith #8. Smith hit tool rating was 50, Ruiz was, and is, 55.

      Padres are coming. They aren’t there yet, but adding Strasburg adds some wins. They could use some prospect equity for trades, but somehow I doubt it. I think they want to compete with team controlled players. Hard to know what they are willing to do. Meyers will likely be moved. His early projections for ‘20 are better than this year was, but it will cost them to move that contract. A new, more hitter friendly park, would help him.

      1. Until they get a strong clubhouse presence, I do not think they go anywhere. There are no leaders on the team. No grizzled vet telling the kids what the facts of life are. The Dodgers have a few of those. The teams culture has mostly been losing. I doubt adding Strasburg changes that much. The good Padres teams of the past had those kinds of vets.
        On the other subject, I know you buy into all that rating stuff there Scoop. I am just not a believer and never will be. I remember how Ashley was a can’t miss prospect and some others too. How about Jose Offerman who was supposed to make Dodger fans forget Wills. That worked out well. I am not from Missouri, but I am definitely a show me person. I don’t get caught up in the hype, because they rarely live up to it. Even Harper is not the player all the pundits said he would be. To hear them talk, he was going to be better than Ruth.

      2. I understand Bear. But for every failure of top rated prospects there are several successes. Most scouts really like Ruiz. Yes, they all could be wrong. I certainly hope they aren’t.

  4. More failures of top dogs than successes Scoop. What is the percentage of top picks that ever make it to the bigs and stick? It is very small. I have seen lots of guys who were really liked by scouts that never panned out in the majors. Pederson was a top rated prospect too, but he has never really showed the same skills in the majors he did in AAA. Not the same base stealer and definitely not the same outfielder. He has power, and decent defensive skills. But is he what they said he would be? Nope., I have no doubt the scouts love Ruiz, and he has shown those skills at every level so far. But, until he is behind the plate regularly, I am not buying it.

    1. I didn’t say anything about top picks. I’m talking only of top rated prospects. Go back through the last 10 years of top rated prospects at the MLB Pipeline site and you will find more hits than misses. Of course it’s true some of the top 50 won’t be Major League Stars. Lux, May and Ruiz are all there. Gray is 75. Downs is 87. I say they all make it. Who, if any, will be stars? Bellinger was there. Kershaw was there. Seager was there. Urias was there. Trout was there. Posey and Bumgarner were there. Damn near everybody on Houston’s team was there. And yes, Zach Lee was there as well.

      Guess we just have to wait and see. I just hope his hand is ok.

    1. Interesting thought Chris, but I’m guessing that they want Ruiz to get as many at bats as possible as well as plenty of time behind the plate to refine his skills. That isn’t going to happen with three catchers on the roster and it’s why I would be surprised to see Ruiz start 2020 anywhere but OKC.

      1. Why not OKC? He was there last year. Hit over .300 there. Only struck out once.

        Ok, I see I had a momentary reading comprehension problem. You actually said he belongs at OKC. My bad.

        Carry on.

      2. Very impressive Scoop, except for the fact that it was only 38 at bats.
        At Tulsa, before arriving at OKC, his line was .254/.329/.330/.659.
        If it’s up to me, it’s OKC. (ooh, I’m a poet).

      3. Does this mean we can’t argue and insult each other for the rest of the day?
        I was looking forward to engaging you in some vicious back and forth regarding our baseball knowledge with some questionable personal insults thrown in.

      4. Yeah, I know. But in 38 at bats only striking out once is impressive. Where’s the better pitching, AA or AAA?

        I see I have a reading comprehension problem. My bad.

        Carry on.

      5. You want to try to insult me go ahead. I’d rather be insulted by you than some of the finest people in the world. (stole that from a Steve Martin movie)

      6. “I believe sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.”

        Classic Steve.

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