While the Los Angeles Dodgers have had one of the league’s best overall farm systems for decades, their stronghold on blue-chip pitchers and catchers has been among baseball’s elite. There always seems to be at least a handful of pitchers and several catchers ranked in MLB’s Top 100, and there isn’t anything right now that suggests the trend will stop anytime soon.
Catcher is often one of those spots that’s highly challenging to draft and develop, but the Dodgers have done amazing job over the last several seasons with players like Will Smith, Hunter Feduccia, Carson Taylor, departed names like Keibert Ruiz and Connor Wong, and most recently, Diego Cartaya, who sits atop the organization’s overall prospect list.
Despite all this talent, Los Angeles selected another blue-chip backstop in Dalton Rushing in the 2022 draft. Although he has some significant work to do on defense, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder has already shown that he has the potential to be a juggernaut at the plate.
Louisville Catchers Galore
The irony with the 21-year-old lefty-hitting Rushing is that he attended the University of Louisville for three seasons before turning pro, the same school that produced Smith. Although Smith was about five years ahead of Rushing, they both had time to work together and chat during Rushing’s time as a Cardinal.
“Yeah, we’d spoken a few times before and I’d worked with him a little bit,” Rushing told Baseball America of his relationship with Smith. “Obviously, he knows everything. He’s one of the best catchers in baseball right now. Learning from a guy like him was something I really took pride in, and I was able to grow as a player going into my junior year.”
Last season, Rushing got his feet wet in the Arizona Rookie League for a few games, but he was quickly ushered to Low-A rancho Cucamonga, where he hit an insane .424/.539/.778 with 19 extra-base hits and an even more impressive 21 walks in just 128 plate appearances. At the end of the year, he was promoted to High-A Great Lakes just in time to join the team for the playoffs.
“We think he’s an extremely talented player,” said Dodgers vice president of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino upon drafting Rushing. “We love his strength; we love his athleticism. We thought he could hit with power and not chase outside the zone. We’re excited to get a left-hitting catcher with power.”
Looking Ahead to 2023
With Rushing’s perfect build for a backstop, the Dodgers remain committed to developing the Memphis native at catcher, although he spent some time as a first baseman at Louisville. While his arm strength and release are decent, he still needs to develop his ball handling skills, which he thinks will come by getting to know his fellow battery mates better.
“Creating bonds with my pitchers [is the key],” Rushing added in the Baseball America interview. “I’m not worried about my throwing. My biggest thing is I want to create a relationship with every single arm that’s coming out of the bullpen [and] every arm stepping on the bump to start the game. I think that’s what really sticks out as a catcher. That’s what separates good from the great — being able to work with every single guy and knowing how to talk to them.”
Although they’re both nearly the same age, Cartaya is currently light years ahead of Rushing on the MLB depth chart. While there’s a good chance Rushing starts his 2023 in High-A ball, there might be chance he earns his way to Double-A Tulsa by the end of the season, particularly if he shows more maturity on the defensive side of things.