Catching is one of the toughest positions on the baseball diamond. Navigating your pitching staff through any scenario, trying to help get your pitchers a lead, and of course, all that squatting.
Over the past few years, the Dodgers have had some issues with their catchers. 2019 saw starter Austin Barnes sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City to work on his batting, leaving the staff up to a rookie in Will Smith with veteran Russell Martin as his back-up.
Smith took the Major Leagues by storm, hitting 15 homers and nine doubles in 54 games while taking over as primary catcher through the last third of the season and the NLDS. He did not produce in that series, however, and Barnes didn’t even make the postseason roster.
2020 was a better year for the catching staff, with both Smith and Barnes handling the pitching staff well throughout the playoffs. Both got key hits to help their team win the World Series.
Smith had a huge home run off his same-named counterpart Will Smith of the Atlanta Braves to help propel the Dodgers into the World Series. He was the DH many times throughout the playoffs.
Barnes struggled again at the plate to start 2020, but Mookie Betts gave him some pointers, and Austin was able to turn it around offensively. While not anything close to spectacular at the plate, hitting is not where Barnes’ strength lies.
Barnes’ biggest contribution to the team is his excellent ability to handle the pitching staff. Clayton Kershaw even went so far as to request Barnes as his catcher every time he pitched. He has elite pitch framing and a solid plan for calling every game regardless of who is pitching.
The 2021 season should set up the pretty much the same. Both Barnes and Smith will split time as the team’s backstop.
The future of Dodger catching seems a bit uncertain at this point. Keibert Ruiz was seemingly poised to be the next Dodgers’ rising star behind the plate. One of the top Dodger prospects, Ruiz made his Major League debut last season, hitting a home run in his first career at bat. He had two hits total in eight at bats over two games played, staying with the big club for a total of ten days. He did not make the postseason roster.
Ruiz then went to the alternate training site for the rest of the playoffs. A few weeks ago, it was announced that he would play in Venezuela, joining the Los Leones team.
Via tweet, a Venezuelan writer announced that Ruiz was no longer playing for that team. He had been struggling at the plate, and there are rumors that he did not agree with management.
Fans speculated on the reason for his departure. Some hoped that maybe Ruiz was going to be involved in a trade. Others thought that it might just be because he was going to join the Dodgers to train come January.
According to this article, and if Google translate serves us well, there was no reason given for Ruiz’s departure. He was supposed to stay with the Venezuelan team until January 10th. He did not speak with any reporters before he left the team.
Ruiz was batting .129 over 31 at bats with a double and two RBI.
In his article ranking Dodgers prospects, Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs notes that Ruiz “swings at far too many pitches outside the zone, but he is so often able to get the barrel there that it hasn’t mattered, and he’s a .299 career hitter in spite of this.” He also states that the 22 year-old has baby soft hands and is great pitch framer and receiver, is slow to exchange the ball, but has a very accurate throw.
The general thought is that Ruiz will be a good, but not great, catcher in the majors. But, as the article states, with two catchers already, plus the addition of Tim Federowicz, whom the Dodgers just signed, Ruiz could indeed be a good trade piece for the Dodgers should they be willing.
It will interesting to watch if more news comes out about Ruiz’s departure from the Venezuelan League and if there is anything at all to make of it.