What Lies Ahead for Austin Barnes?

barnes
(Getty Images photo)

Not long after the Dodgers were eliminated from the 2019 postseason, one of the most popular topics of discussion was the team’s immediate plans at catcher, specifically which player would backup Will Smith.

Some fans felt the club should bring back Russell Martin on a short-term deal, primarily because of his abilities as a clubhouse leader and his skills related to grooming the younger players. Others felt the team should hang onto 30-year-old Austin Barnes, a player who has been in decline offensively since he slashed .289/.408/.486 over 102 games in 2017. There was even another group of folks that thought the Dodgers should explore another option altogether.

Amid that conjecture sat 21-year-old backstop Keibert Ruiz, a youngster who has seemingly sat in the Top 5 prospect rankings for the last handful of years. If it was not for a broken finger in the latter part of the 2019 season, the Venezuelan native might have found himself battling for a spot on the team’s big league 26-man roster in 2020 Cactus League play. More on Ruiz in just a bit.

When it came time to hand out contracts to players who were arbitration-eligible this winter, Barnes was among the first to receive a deal. The contract was for one year and $1.1 million, all of which is guaranteed—something a little unusual for an arb-related type of contract.

Regardless, the move is somewhat of an indicator that the Dodgers have faith in Barnesy to serve the backup role well, at least for the first half of the season. As far as additional depth goes, journeyman Rocky Gale may be the lucky one to get the call should an injury arrive early to either Smith or Barnes. In the same breath, there’s still the possibility the Dodgers sign another experienced backstop to provide even more depth.

As far as Barnes goes offensively, he’s barely hit above the Mendoza line the past two seasons. In 2018, he slashed just .205/.329/.290 with four homers in 100 games and 238 plate appearances. Last year, he hit .203/.293/..340 with five long balls in 75 games and 242 plate appearances, most of which came in the first half of the season before Smith was promoted.

Defensively, there aren’t many big league catchers mechanically sound as Barnes. His glove is fantastic and he’s trusted hugely by his pitching staff. However, would-be base stealers tend to capitalize on his below-average arm. After gunning down seven of 31 runners in 2017, he has thrown out just nine of 46 runners over the past two seasons combined.

How Barnes performs in the first half of the 2020 season could conceivably determine his future with the team. Should Barnes falter—coupled with an impressive first half of the season by Ruiz at Triple-A Oklahoma City—Ruiz could theoretically earn a big league promotion at some point, similar to the way Smith made his big league rise last season.

According to the Steamer projections found on Fangraphs, Barnes will slash .226/.323/.364 with five homers over 198 plate appearances in 50 games during the upcoming season.

Of course, there’s always the chance that Barnes returns to his 2017 form and challenges Smith for the bulk of playing time. Stranger things have happened.

It’s certainly a situation worth keeping an eye on as Ruiz lurks in the shadows for perhaps the final season.

 

 

29 thoughts on “What Lies Ahead for Austin Barnes?

  1. It’s possible that the FO expects Ruiz to be ready by mid season and they were able to sign Barnes for less than Martin so they went in that direction. Assuming that Smith has a decent season and Barnes is no worse than he has been, I really wouldn’t mind seeing Ruiz get one full year at OKC. Of course he could be traded later today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very rare to see a trade on New Years day. Too many watching football and gorging themselves. Barnes could also be a trade candidate. Houston was interested earlier, but they re-signed Maldonado.

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    1. Oh god I hope not. They were awful. Not a huge Mike Myers fan. Except the turn he did as a British General in Inglorious Basterds.

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      1. Steamer has him hitting .249 with 1 AB. I think that suggest a flaw in an algorithm, but, it also suggests he can do more with 1 at bat that can Barnes. I think Barnes popped up in that at bat.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I actually like Barnes. I really thought he was going to progress as a hitter. But the last 2 years have dampened that feeling. I think one of the reasons they re-signed him is because he is not simply a catcher. He can play the infield and has seen some outfield time as well. Martin was multi positional. Smith is pretty much just a catcher as is Ruiz. Smith did log a little time at 1st, but not enough for a true evaluation of his talents there. Betts is essentially off of the market right now. Most now seem to think that if he is moved, it will be a deadline deal. Lindor talk has also abated. Bryant in a trade has picked up some steam. Every one still waiting on the service time ruling from the arbitrator.

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    1. Yeah, he can play some infield. That might come in handy if Taylor and Hernandez both get traded or end up on the IL together. Barnes is a decent catcher who at one time showed an ability to hit. That one time appears to be long gone. Without an at bat in the bigs I think Ruiz is a better option than Barnes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Was just checking his splits at fangraphs. He’s got some work to do. His ground ball rate is high, von skyhack will work on that. He doesn’t strike out much, but he doesn’t walk much either. LD% needs to improve. He can hit to the opposite field, so that’s a good thing, but I don’t know how often he swings at borderline pitches. His contact rate is high and that can actually work against a guy if he’s not willing to wait for a good pitch. The coaches will be working on that right away. He’s 6’ 200 pounds. 22 in July. He will be knocking the door down this year.

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  3. Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series died today at age 90. He was battling esophageal cancer.

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  4. Rumor mill pretty quiet right now. Some minor signings and the White Sox gave a long term deal to one of their young stud outfielders. Plawecki signing with the Red Sox, and Will Harris is close to making a decision. No Dodger chatter at all. The ongoing story is that they are looking at Bryant. Another story is that there is a 50-50 chance Arenado gets dealt, but 0 chance the Rockies trade him to a division rival. Happy 2020……

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    1. In that JP Morosi writeup I don’t think he put the chances at 0 but stated it was unlikely. There is a difference. Like maybe if we said we would take the 18 mil left on the Wade Davis contract, paid the entire Arenadao contract and gave them Ruiz and Downs or Vargas. That would be a whole lot more than what the Angels had to do to sign Rendon. Remember, Arenado has a full no trade clause so can pretty much dictate where he goes if he wants out of there. Also he can opt out in two years so the team that traded for him might want a window to remove that before trading for him. Highly unlikely that AF, the Rox and Arenado can all agree on a deal, but a little more than 0% chance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I stand corrected by your superior reading skills Jefe. And you are right, 0 and less likely are different things. Up here in Colorado they would revolt. These people tend to love their stars. Even the faded ones. You would not believe how they still love Elway despite the fact that his Bronco leadership has been less than stellar. When Matt Holliday came back for his swan song in a Rockies uni, it was unreal how he was greeted at Coors. And you are also right that it would be most unlikely the Rocks, Arenado, and AF would agree on a deal.

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  5. The Rockies are saddled with some really bad contracts. They have something like 36 million committed to those 3 relievers. LA’s roster at 39. They gave Ruiz #70. Some guys are so new on the roster that there is no picture of them on the web site. Gonzalez, McKinstry are faceless in the crowd!

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  6. OK guys, your all decade team. Everyone is doing it. played between 2010 and 2019. Love to see the results. I need to research some before I make a choice, except 1B, 3B and the outfield. Those are easy, Gonzalez, Turner, Kemp, Ethier, and Puig. RH starter would be Greinke, and Kersh from the left with Jansen as the closer. C-SS-2B-Utility a little murkier.

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  7. Wow bear those are tough. I guess I go Seager at short, Grandal at catcher, Kike at utility and nobody deserves the honor at second!

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    1. A lot of turnover at second base. Dee Gordon made the All Star team one year. Howie Kendrick was ok. Utley will be remembered, but not for being good. I’d give C to Kershaw’s buddy. Bellinger is on the team. Jansen of course.

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  8. Morosi twitting again. Somebody should get the details. I hear Verdugo and Ruiz plus are on the table in a deal for Price and Betts. I’d do it. I’d do it just to do it, then once it’s done it’s done.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That’s 100 mil for a guy who could be injured for the next 3 years and even if he pitches, he’s no longer an ace by any means. I think AF is putting the screws to Cleveland to back off Lux

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cleveland has pulled Lindor and Clevinger off of the block according to most reports, and they were not backing off of Lux. Basically, no Lux, no deal. I think if they traded for Price, Boston is going to have to eat a significant piece of that pie. Betts is projected to get close to 28 million in arbitration, add that to Prices 32 and that’s 60 million added to the books for this season. No wiggle room there. So I doubt that deal goes anywhere unless there is some money and a lot of it coming back to the Dodgers. And sorry Scoop. I cannot put a guy with less than 3 years MLB service on my all decade team. Especially since he did not play a significant amount of time at the position he is being selected for. Belli has less than 150 games as an outfielder. So I stick with Kemp, Puig and Ethier.

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      1. Bellinger did more in his 3 years than Kemp did in his 5. A lot more. And any Dodger who wins an MVP is on my All Decade team. How many of them do we have?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 2 Kershaw and Belli, and Kemp should have been the 3rd. And half a decade trumps 3 years no matter what the kid did. That’s why Ethier is on my team and Puig. Kemp spent 6 years with the Dodgers since he returned to play in 2018, and he was the one carrying the team early that year, combined with his previous 5 years in the decade, and even subtracting his injury year, he out produced Bellinger by a lot.

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  10. Yep, we disagree and do not add WAR to that because to me it means nada. More RBI’s more homers, and 1 away from a 40/40 season, something Bellinger for all of his talent will never come close to. And Kemp was robbed of what should have been his MVP award. That is almost universally recognized. Especially after Braun admitted using PED’s. And if he had not been injured, his WAR would be a lot higher. The year he got hurt he was having an even better season than 2011. Tried coming back too early and it cost him.

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  11. To me it is like people comparing Kershaw to Koufax. Seen them both, Sandy was way more dominant than Kersh ever has been. Kemp not only could match Cody’s power numbers, he was a clutch hitter with a better batting average and more speed. He had great outfield range prior to getting hurt. That injury changed his whole game. But like you say, we disagree,, Won’t be the last time.

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  12. Disagree on the speed. Bellinger is not only faster he’s a far better defender. From my couch Kemp had one great year and a bunch of mediocre years. I know how you feel about analytics but a lot of important stats go into that figure and it is what is being used by everyone to evaluate players.

    Agree about Koufax. He was the best I ever saw.

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