Dodgers have built baseball’s deepest catching corps

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

This is normally Stacie’s territory, but I’m going to take a stab at framing just how good the Dodgers’ catching depth is.

When Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and Co., took over, the catching depth wasn’t great. The Dodgers had long since moved on from Russell Martin and A.J. Ellis was the incumbent. Since that time, the Dodgers have added some impact players and potential impact prospects to the system.

The first big move was to send Dee Gordon to Miami for a package of players that included Austin Barnes. A few days later, they sent fan favorite Matt Kemp to San Diego to get Yasmani Grandal. Immediately, the catching depth got immensely better. Grandal has been one of baseball’s best catchers since that time, posting a .241/.337/.450 triple slash with a 116 wRC+ and an average of 2.5 fWAR. He is also one of baseball’s premiere pitch framers — 2nd-best in baseball behind Tyler Flowers, according to Baseball Prospectus’ framing stats.

Barnes was stuck in the minors most of his first two seasons with the Dodgers because Ellis was Grandal’s backup and, after Ellis was traded, Carlos Ruiz was the backup catcher. But when Ruiz was sent to Seattle in the offseason, and that opened the door for Barnes to seize the backup catcher spot, and seize it he has. He’s hitting .293/.411/.513 with a 148 wRC+ and a 1.9 WAR. If he had a qualifying number of plate appearances (3.1 per team game played), he’d have the highest wRC+, wOBA and OBP of any catcher. Even without enough plate appearances, he has the 8th-best WAR of any catcher in all of baseball. Barnes gets extra points for his framing. He has 1,983 chances compared to 4,847 for Grandal. If you extrapolate his adjusted framing runs above average (9.8) and give him Grandal’s number of chances, Barnes’ adjusted FRAA would be 23.9. Grandal’s is 17.2. He’s an elite framer.

The thing is that the quality isn’t just at the Major League level anymore. The Dodgers have some quality minor-league catching depth. Bobby Wilson is known as an excellent framer. He doesn’t hit much, but this front office values what he can do for a pitcher and with a pitcher. Kyle Farmer is still a bit of a work in progress, but he has earned praise for his ability behind the plate. He also has hit better this season than at any other time of his minor-league career. That helped get him a call-up, and, we won’t forget that walk-off 2-run double against the Giants. Even OKC Dodger catcher Jack Murphy has his pros.

This was from Walker Buehler‘s most recent relief outing. And while Murphy appears to be praising Buehler and himself, his ability to get those numbers from an elite prospect who has struggled a bit with command since getting to Triple-A is significant.

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If you want to talk about prospects, well, this front office has done well to improve the catching depth there as well.

Billy Gasparino‘s second selection of his second draft as Dodgers’ scouting director was Will Smith, who was a late-rising backstop from Louisville. He has been comped to Barnes, and while the results aren’t there quite yet, he’s showing some promise. In the most recent draft, the Dodgers spent a 3rd-rounder on Connor Wong, another athletic, shorter catcher with good on-base skills and questionable power. The Dodgers certainly have a type when it comes to their backstops.

Other catchers the Dodgers have drafted since 2015 are as follows (round in parenthesis):

*Unsigned

Some of these guys have moved from behind the plate, some of been released, but the emphasis on behind-the-plate ability has been something of importance when drafting the last few years.

On the international front, Keibert Ruiz looks like the real deal. He was a $140,000 investment out of Venezuela in 2015 and he has done nothing but hit since he turned pro. And now that he’s a 19-year-old in the California League, he’s showing some power.

He’s still raw behind the plate, but he has the skills and ability to stick there. With his bat, he could be a very valuable player if everything pans out. Luis Paz is mostly a first baseman, but he has dabbled behind the plate. Problem is, he’s 20 and ripped up the Pioneer League after struggling mightily at Great Lakes to begin the season, but he’s still worth mentioning. They’ve also signed some wild cards/deep sleepers who could make themselves known in the next couple years, but I’ll spare you the 150th- and 200th-ranked prospects in the org.

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So, what does the organizational catching depth chart look like? Probably something like this:

  1. Grandal
  2. Barnes
  3. Farmer
  4. Wilson
  5. Murphy
  6. Smith
  7. Shawn Zarraga
  8. Paul Hoenecke
  9. Kennedy
  10. Ruiz
  11. Wynston Sawyer
  12. Sean O’Connell
  13. Brant Whiting
  14. Wong
  15. Berman
  16. Garrett Hope

Just a rough approximation, but the Top 5 is not debatable. The fact I can, legitimately, get to 16 deep with the Top 7 having seen or will see some MLB experience at some point is remarkable. And Ruiz is only down that far because he’s young, while Wong is down that far down because he’s in his first full season. Both will be much higher come next season.

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Depth has been a calling card of this organization. The powers that be have done a great job building the catching depth. It’s as strong as it has ever been. There may not be a Roy Campanella or Mike Piazza in the lot, but there are a ton of solid contributors.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.