While some organizations are struggling to find one competent catcher, the Dodgers seemingly have an abundance of them. This has been written about many times at Dodgers Digest, most recently last August (by Dustin) and last Wednesday (also by Dustin).
Yasmani Grandal is one of the best pitch-framers in baseball and had the fourth-most home runs by a catcher in 2017 with 22. However, he’s not even guaranteed to be the starter as Austin Barnes broke on to the scene last year, showing off his highly touted framing along with a more consistent approach at the plate. Barnes started all but two games in the postseason, and while manager Dave Roberts has said that Grandal will still be the primary catcher against righties, his leash figures to be shorter. Grandal came up in trade discussions during the offseason. He’s coming off a relative down year offensively and entering the final year of his contract. Barnes figures to be the everyday starter sooner or later, either behind the plate or at second, as Dustin posited.
On the farm, Keibert Ruiz has risen quickly up prospect rankings and will undoubtedly be high on Dustin’s top prospect list. The Dodgers have also used recent high draft picks on Connor Wong (18th on Dustin’s Top 100) and Will Smith (will also be in Dustin’s Top 10, coming soon to a website near you) in recent years.
But one player making headlines this spring is another catcher, Kyle Farmer. Farmer endeared himself to Dodger fans last July when he hit a walk-off double to beat the Giants in his first MLB plate appearance. Most of his playing time last season came as a pinch hitter as he only logged 22 defensive innings. Seven of those came behind the plate, seven at third base and eight at first.
Farmer was ranked 32nd on Dustin’s top prospect list. Here’s part of what he wrote about him:
At the plate, Farmer makes a lot of contact with a level swing path, good pitch recognition and plate discipline. He sets up with a traditional batting stance and his hands at at ear-level and away from his body a bit. There’s a minor bat waggle that stops when the pitcher begins his motion. He has a small leg kick and a compact swing. Sometimes he gets a little over-anxious, leading to some chasing, but on the whole, he has competitive at-bats. Despite being solidly built, Farmer doesn’t have a ton of power or power potential. Defensively, he had almost an even split between catcher and third base in the minors. He’s still learning behind the plate, but everything has improved since turning pro. He has a good arm, soft hands and plays the natural role of leader behind the plate. His framing isn’t up to par yet, but he’s improving in that area. He has plenty of arm for third base and can even slide over to first base in an emergency. He’s a decent athlete for a catcher, but he won’t be much of a factor on the base paths.
Eric Stephen of True Blue LA wrote about how Farmer focused on his flexibility this offseason in order to improve his defense behind the plate. Utilizing Pilates, Farmer also noticed an improvement at the plate.
“I’ve seen a major difference in my hitting,” Farmer said. “I can use my hips in my swing more, maybe elevate the ball a little better and have some more power.”
Early returns have been positive for Farmer’s newfound flexibility at the plate. This spring, Farmer has a triple slash line of .500/.577/1.100. He hit his third home run of the spring Wednesday night. He also has four walks to just four strikeouts. Six of his 10 hits have gone for extra bases.
Farmer, much like Jake Peter (who I recently wrote about), has made a strong case to be included on the Opening Day roster. He’s on the 40-man roster, but carrying three catchers among 12 position players doesn’t seem likely, even if two of them can play another infield position. Having a third catcher on the roster would be nice as it would free up Barnes or Grandal to be used as a pinch-hitter earlier in games, but with an already crowded bench, it’s tough to see Farmer on the roster much, if at all, before September call-ups.
However, Grandal is entering the final year of his contract. He’s a bit of a forgotten man in a monster class of free agents and will be 30 in November, but would be an upgrade for most teams behind the plate. If Farmer continues to improve both offensively and defensively, he’d slide in nicely as the backup catcher with Barnes taking the majority of starts beginning next season. With how Ruiz is progressing and with Smith and Wong also in the organization, the Dodgers might not have to worry about the catcher position for quite a long time.