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Dodgers top prospects 2016: No. 21, Kyle Farmer

Note: Farmer was originally ranked No. 20, but moved down a spot after the Dodgers' trade on Dec. 16, 2015.

Photo: Rich Crimi | Tulsa Drillers

Kyle Farmer entered the 2015 season as an intriguing catcher convert, but has ended it as a surefire major-league-quality player, albeit one with a limited ceiling. Farmer has hit his way through three levels (if you consider the Arizona Fall League a bar to cross), improving his defensive skills along the way. While Farmer has room to improve on the finer points of catching, his bat and utility are ready for at least a bench role at the major league level. Unfortunately, he just so happens to be in arguably the most top-heavy system for catching.

I did not rank Kyle Farmer last year, despite his tool set peaking my interest, but I could not find enough video to evaluate, and especially didn’t want to make a judgment without seeing him catch. One thing that was fairly evident before watching him play was the Kyle Farmer was going to be able to hit for average. Outside of tiring out down the stretch in Double-A Tulsa, Farmer hit .323 in High-A, .273 in Double-A, and is currently hitting .293 in the Arizona Fall League.

Farmer’s approach at the plate is a no frills approach. He’s short to the ball and leaves his barrel in the zone a long time. He looks to spray line drives into the left center gap to straight away center. His swing is geared for contact over power, he doesn’t demonstrate a significant load or weight transfer, and focuses instead on being short to the ball. He’s a strong enough guy and his line drive trajectory should still lend him 8-10 home runs across a full season.

Dodgers 2016 top prospects: Nos. 21-25 Nos. 26-30 Nos. 31-61 Overview

Kyle’s stocky build is better suited for catching than the shortstop position he occupied at the University of Georgia. He’s still athletic for a catcher and looks natural when asked to play at third base. He’s a solid overall runner underway, and a better than average runner for a catcher, but his overall speed is slightly below average. He’s an older prospect and has already physically developed, but has the requisite bulk and strength that should hold up over a full season behind the plate.

I’ve only had a few looks at Farmer behind the plate, but his transition to catching seems to be coming along nicely. His quiet, soft hands that he honed at shortstop serve him well in receiving, though he is still refining his technique on framing balls around the plate. He’s quick twitched enough to block or smother balls in the dirt, but needs more reps at the upper levels to recognize pitches and quicken his reactions.

Farmer is already a plus backstop in controlling the running game. He has a strong arm that grades above average for arm strength, but his release is quick and his throws are accurate. Farmer had a 42-percent caught stealing rate in both the California and Tulsa League. As speed starts to regain prominence in the league, Kyle’s ability to control the running game will be a particularly appealing asset.

Farmer’s defensive utility is not just limited to catching, as he spent some time at third base in the Texas League. He’s not the rangiest defender, his first step quickness likely eroding from the wear and tear of squatting behind the plate, but Farmer has soft hands and solid footwork trained from growing up a shortstop. Kyle’s strong arm serves him well at third base as it does behind the plate. I wouldn’t peg his overall defense as above average, but he’s a competent third baseman that would best serve him in a bench role where he could understudy catcher, third, and first base (he has no games played at first base, but I’m confident his soft hands would work at the position).

It’s this suggested bench role that Farmer might ultimately be best suited for in Los Angeles. Farmer’s overall profile suggests a .270 hitter with less value in on base percentage and slugging, but capable of defending at least two positions, catching being the most valuable. Gains in pitch framing and slugging (talking small improvement, like reaching a .120 isolated slugging percentage) could see take him to first team regular/second division starter.

The problem Farmer faces lies in the names ahead of Farmer on the depth chart. Yasmani Grandal is an All-Star performer when healthy, A.J. Ellis has the support of the pitching staff and a bounce-back 2015, and Austin Barnes is on the same developmental path but with superior offensive skills. It pains me to suggest that Farmer’s best value to the Dodgers is as a trade chip, because catchers are so hard to develop and he’s becoming a personal favorite, but he’s not expected to be more valuable than Grandal or Barnes.

It’s unclear just where we can expect Farmer to start the season, and that might not be clear until Spring Training. If every catcher is healthy to start the year, Farmer likely heads to Tulsa rather than share duties with Barnes in AAA. Should Grandal need more time for his shoulder to recover or Barnes is able to break camp as third catcher/utility player, then Farmer could go to Oklahoma City. However, Farmer is one of the better trade chips in the organization, and could be on the move this off-season. I’d almost place even odds on either outcome, but regardless, Farmer is a bat ready catcher that just needs the right opportunity.

2016 top Dodgers prospects list