While there aren’t an overwhelming number of trade rumors surrounding the Dodgers as this winter’s hot stove approaches, there has been a bit of conjecture regarding catcher Yasmani Grandal and whether or not he’ll last the entire season in Los Angeles.
The 29-year-old product of Cuba is embarking upon his seventh big league season, and this winter will mark his third bout with salary arbitration. At the end of his 2018 campaign, he’ll become a free agent, prompting many fans to believe the Dodgers will deal him to at least haul in some type of return as Austin Barnes continues as the club’s primary backstop.
In 2017, Grandal hit .247/.308/.459 with 22 long balls, but he set a career high in strikeouts with 130. He also set a personal high with 16 passed balls, which was one of several reasons that allowed Barnes to climb to the top of the catching hierarchy.
The dilemma in dealing Grandal sooner than later is having to face the task of determining whether or not 27-year-old utility man Kyle Farmer is ready for extended duty behind the dish in the majors. His bat is certainly capable, but although he caught 32 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, he saw action in just three games during his time in the big leagues. Without Grandal, though, the Dodgers would lose the option of having a catcher who can hit left-handed, although Barnes’ splits at the plate do show reverse tendencies.
Ruiz began 2017 by slashing .317/372/.423 in 63 games for the Loons and was promoted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga on July 9. With the Quakes, Ruiz hit .315 with six homers, seven doubles, 27 RBI and 24 runs scored over 38 games. In 201 career minor-league games, the switch-hitting catcher has slashed .330 /.372/.461 with 11 homers, 53 doubles and 118 RBI. Offensive skills aside, he’s probably better known for his defense behind the dish, as he’s considered already to be an MLB-caliber receiver by most scouts within the organization. The native of Valencia, Venezuela was named the Dodgers’ 2017 Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year.
With Grandal still in the picture and Farmer beginning the season at OKC, Ruiz should have plenty of time to settle in at Double-A Tulsa, at least until some kind of move is made involving Grandal.
With Jack Murphy and Wynston Sawyer heading into free agency, and veteran Bobby Wilson facing either free agency or retirement, Smith is setting up to see considerable time at catcher for Oklahoma City. 2017 saw Smith battle a few injury setbacks, but he’s definitely healthy at the present juncture. Recently in the 2017 Arizona Fall League, Smith led the Glendale Desert Dogs in hitting at .371, after going 23-for-62 at the plate over 18 games played.
Despite Ruiz’s many accolades, some pundits still have Smith with the higher ceiling. Smith is a significantly better athlete than most catchers, with many scouts giving him plus grades for his speed. He has solid arm strength and such a quick transfer that he consistently delivers throws to second base in 1.9 seconds or less. He moves very well behind the plate and is a good receiver who capably handled several pro-caliber pitchers on Louisville’s staff. When hitting, Smith uses a compact right-handed stroke that enables him to make contact with ease. He’s more of an on-base machine than a power threat, though he has the ability to poke an occasional ball out of the park—all qualities reminiscent of Barnes at the big league level.
If he’s still around come spring, Paul Hoenecke could play a role at catcher in the upper-levels of the farm. Over six minor league seasons in the Dodgers’ system, the 27-year-old has hit .269/.317/.449 with 50 homers and 228 RBI in 439 games.
Further down on the totem pole is Garrett Kennedy, who hit .230/.322/.385 with eight long balls across two levels of the farm last season, and Brant Whiting, a 25-year-old backstop who spent most of the year at Low-A Great Lakes. With Kennedy, however, there may be a scenario where he comes back as a coach in the system after having battled an significant number of injuries over the past several seasons.
In an ideal scenario for the Dodgers, if Grandal is indeed moved, a trade won’t happen until the deadlines approach during the summer, affording Farmer the time to focus mainly on catching at the big league level, while giving Smith the time to transition to Triple-A.
Either way, 2018 will see a bit of restructuring in the Dodgers’ catching department, as a few of the youngsters who have been touted the past few years will finally be given a chance to climb to the higher levels of the organizational ladder.
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