The major league arrival of Keibert Ruiz on Saturday spurred many insightful discussions among fans of the Dodgers, specifically how the team might view its situation at catcher for the next several years.
As it stands, there are five backstops of significance in the organization. Will Smith is the high man on the totem pole for the moment, despite having been placed on the injured list Saturday with neck soreness. Right beside Smith is the 30-year-old journeyman Austin Barnes, who will be the primary catcher until Smith is ready to return. Consequently comes Ruiz, who should see at least a few appearances in the show before Smith is eventually reinstated.
Needless to say, fans have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Ruiz for quite some time.
Regardless, Rocky Gale is nothing more than an emergency option, and his value might plunge even further if Ruiz proves that he’s legitimately ready to contribute in the majors. Further down the line is the 18-year-old Diego Cartaya, who some pundits feel may have a higher ceiling than any other catcher in the organization.
It’s hard to know exactly what Andrew Friedman and his troops are thinking, but my guess would be that Smith is probably the safest of the group with regards to job security. At the peak their games, he’s a better hitter than Barnes, and although his pitch framing is not quite as good, his mechanics are definitely comparable, while his throwing arm is far more superior.
As far as Barnes goes, he’s arbitration eligible for both the 2021 and 2022 seasons before becoming a unrestricted free agent for his 2023 campaign. Indeed, the Dodgers will be faced with a tough decision over whether they want to tender him a contract this winter, especially if Ruiz finds a way to impress management during the time he sees in the majors this year. Before the prorated salary adjustments due to the shortened season, Barnes was set to make $1.1 million this year.
If you haven’t seen Sunday’s column by Jim Callis of MLB.com, it might be worth taking at least a peak. Callis breaks down each of Ruiz’s tools in terms of prospect rankings, as it gives a quick glimpse of what fans might expect from the 22-year-old native of Venezuela. One thing to keep an eye on—as indicated by Callis—is that despite having decent arm strength, Ruiz shows inaccuracy when it comes to prospective base stealers, and it might be interesting to see if opposing clubs try to capitalize on that weakness early.
The fact that Cartaya is at the alternate training site working out with big league caliber players suggests he might be farther along than many think. Last year, Cartaya made his first appearance on American soil and saw limited action in the Arizona Rookie League, but it would not be surprising at all if he works his way up to the Double-A level next season, assuming everything returns to normal on the minor league side of things.
Obviously, anything can happen between now and next year, but I have a feeling that Barnes might stay for at least one additional season, particularly if Ruiz does not have many opportunities during however much time he sees at the big league level this year.
There has been some fan chatter about the possibility of moving either Barnes or Ruiz at this year’s August 31 trade deadline. I feel that it would be extremely risky for the club to move Barnes—even if the return is exceptional—and at the same time, it would be very unwise to move Ruiz until the Dodgers know for sure what they have in Cartaya.
For now, regardless of how well either Barnes or Ruiz perform offensively, Smith and Barnes is my catching tandem for as far as the Dodgers will go in 2020.