The Dodgers have optioned catcher Austin Barnes to Triple-A, as originally reported by MLB.com’s official transactions page. Will D. Smith will be called up to take Barnes’ roster spot prior to Friday’s game, according to Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times.
After a big performance down the stretch in 2017 that included usurping Yasmani Grandal’s at-bats in the postseason, it seemed like Barnes was on his way to becoming the Dodgers’ catcher of the future. That progress was stalled after Barnes had only a .619 OPS in 238 PA in 2018, and he has continued to struggle this year, hitting .196/.288/.328 through 233 plate appearances.
With veteran Russell Martin also not hitting well, Los Angeles hasn’t received much offense from the catcher’s spot this year — that is, apart from Smith’s first two brief stints on the Dodgers’ roster. Smith’s first exposure to Major League pitching saw him hit .269/.345/.654 with three homers in only 29 PA over nine games. As we saw with Barnes himself in 2017, the Dodgers aren’t afraid to turn to a young player late in the season, and if Smith continues to hit, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he earns himself regular catching duty come October.
Picked 32nd overall in the 2016 draft, Smith was a top-100 prospect in the eyes of both Baseball Prospectus (59th) and Baseball America (95th) prior to the 2019 season. He is already thought to have solid defense, and Smith has also hit .232/.334/.497 with 21 homers over 366 Triple-A plate appearances.
Catcher is an interesting long-term position for the Dodgers, as both Smith and top prospect Keibert Ruiz would seem to be the club’s top choices for the future, though L.A. also did its due diligence in exploring J.T. Realmuto’s availability before the All-Star was traded to the Phillies last offseason. Smith and Ruiz are undoubtedly popular targets for teams looking to make deals with the Dodgers, yet given that Barnes may be falling out of favor, it may behoove the Dodgers to see exactly what they have in both Smith or Ruiz before deciding on who will be their catcher of the future.