The case for keeping Austin Barnes around when A.J. Ellis returns

A.J. Ellis is due back from the disabled list on Tuesday. Yay-J! That likely means the end Austin Barnes on the 25-man roster for the time being. But it shouldn’t be.

Getting Ellis back will be nice, as he’s pretty much all you could want or expect out of a 34-year-old backup catcher (some more framing would be nice, but so would a lot of things). With Justin Turner out because of a pimple (not a typo), the Dodgers suddenly are lacking infielders.

Enrique Hernandez is the primary backup at two infield positions (second base and shortstop), as well as the primary backup in center field. Alberto Callaspo — despite having experience at second base in the past — has played strictly third base for the Dodgers. Scott Van Slyke is a first base-only proposition. Alex Guerrero is, well, you know: Not a shortstop, not a second baseman and probably not a first baseman. He’s barely a third baseman. This is where Barnes comes in.

Barnes has experience playing second- and third base in the minor leagues. That versatility is something that makes him attractive as a prospect. While he won’t be mistaken for Ryne Sandberg or Adrian Beltre defensively at each position, he could put that versatility to work in the majors while Turner is out.

The only thing is, he has yet to play anywhere but catcher this season. That’s a sign the Dodgers’ front office — which is all about versatility in the minors (Cody Bellinger and Brandon Dixon in center field, Corey Seager and Kyle Farmer at third base, etc.) — has refused to get him any work at second- or third base. He’s certainly athletic enough to handle either spot (second more than third) and provides enough offensive value to make it worth their while.

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.

With Callaspo apparently a third baseman and Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick 1-position players, having another guy around who can play multiple spots could go a long way to keeping the starters fresh for the playoffs.

Here is a breakdown of start percentage for Dodger infielders:

Player Position Start%
Adrian Gonzalez First Base 92.4
Howie Kendrick Second Base 91.4
Jimmy Rollins Shortstop 88.6
Yasmani Grandal Catcher 68.6
Justin Turner Third base 51.4
A.J. Ellis Catcher 26.7
Alberto Callaspo Third Base 17.1
Alex Guerrero Third Base 10.5
Enrique Hernandez Shortstop 9.5
Enrique Hernandez Second Base 6.7
Justin Turner First Base 5.7

Not totally unsurprising. You obviously want your best players playing the most. Unfortunately, the Dodgers’ two most consistent infielders are in their 30s and getting more than 90 percent of the playing time at each position. They could actually benefit from some days off here and there. Mattingly has done a solid job of that thus far, but as we enter the season’s final two months, there might need to be more of an emphasis put on resting some of these guys. Callaspo is solid defensively, as is Hernandez. Guerrero is a carnival at third base and Turner’s best position is easily third (and he can probably only handle starting five days per week at this rate).

The other infielders on the 40-man roster who aren’t currently with the Dodgers or on the disabled list are Jose Peraza, Ronald Torreyes and Andy Wilkins. It’s highly unlikely any of those guys are going to get the call this season (although, Peraza has a pretty bright future with the Dodgers, I’d say). If Barnes were around to give the Dodgers just another level of flexibility, that could pay dividends come playoff time.

Oh, and Barnes has some pretty good offensive potential as well. He’s slashing .304/.385/.484 with Oklahoma City. He also has 22 extra-base hits and more walks (28) than strikeouts (26). In the majors, he’s 4-for-18 with a double, two walks and four strikeouts.

Ellis was coming around a bit offensively before hitting the disabled list: .333/.435/.538 since June 1 (47 plate appearances, #sss), but I’m not sure he can be counted on to provide much offensive spark.

All I’m saying is, Barnes might be worth an extended look with the Dodgers once Ellis returns. I know it probably isn’t going to happen (much like many of my hair-brained schemes), but just something to ponder.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. 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.