There’s no disputing it … the Dodgers don’t have a lot of infield depth at the major league level. After the starters — Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, Justin Turner and Corey Seager — the only true backup infielder on the 25-man roster is Enrique Hernandez.
As great as Hernandez is, even he isn’t capable of backing up three positions at the same time. Alex Guerrero exists (barely), but we all know he isn’t a true option for this club. This is where Austin Barnes comes into play.
“Not only would Barnes be able to spell some guys on the infield (or at least give Don Mattingly the option to do so), he would allow the Dodgers to more freely use their catchers. For instance, if Ellis starts, Grandal could be used to either pinch-hit late in the game, come in as a defensive replacement or even spell Adrian Gonzalez at first base (maybe some starts, too?). Having Barnes as the third catcher/utility guy would give the Dodgers some more versatility on a bench that already has a significant amount of it.”
This is precisely the best way to utilize Barnes’ abilities on the club as currently constructed. He isn’t going to displace Yasmani Grandal or Ellis behind the plate, so using him as a versatile infielder could see the Dodgers benefit from his abilities and alleviate concerns about the lack of infield depth.
Barnes could backup second- and third base, leaving Hernandez open to backing up second base and shortstop (and center field, to a lesser extent, thanks to Trayce Thompson). Also, Barnes’ inclusion on the roster allows the Dodgers to let Grandal get some reps at first base and Gonzalez some time off so that he’s fresh come the postseason. Having a player with Barnes’ potential versatility opens up a lot of doors to play matchups and get guys some much-needed in-season rest without sacrificing a lot of quality on the diamond.
Before you say, “What about Grandal’s framing ability?” Well, Barnes is almost as good a framer as Grandal, according to new data released by Baseball Prospectus. Seeing as he caught just 69 1/3 innings in the majors last year, the data take into account Barnes’ performance at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Word was Barnes was an adept framer, and now the numbers back it up.
While a lot of Barnes’ defensive value is derived from his work behind the plate, his overall utility might be tied to his being on the field as much as possible — be it behind the plate or on the infield. The only thing that’s truly concerning about this idea is the fact he played nine innings in the infield last season — six at second base and three at third base (both in LA, as it happened). If the Dodgers were committed to using Barnes’ versatility to their advantage, I imagine they would have gotten him some work at the positions in the minors.
He has the best plate discipline in the system and showed a little pop with OKC last season. If he can be a league-average hitter and near-league-average defense, he could be quite the valuable bench piece. This would allow Micah Johnson to get a full season of Triple-A (and potentially give him some reps in center field) and let Hernandez play the positions he’s best at (second base and shortstop).
While Barnes could still hone his abilities behind the plate in the minors, he could be a more valuable player to the Dodgers in 2016 as a utility player. It might not be the surest option, but it’s one of the best options the Dodgers have if they don’t want to bring in a free agent.