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Dodgers spring training battles: Catchers

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MLB: Chicago White Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers
Austin Barnes is poised to earn a larger big league role with the Dodgers this season after a pair of years mostly in Triple-A.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training is just around the corner, with Dodgers pitchers and catchers reporting to Camelback Ranch next Wednesday.

We already took a deeper look at the relief pitchers in camp, and explored the several choices in the outfield as well. So today we will highlight the six catchers in major league camp, less than a week before they report to Arizona.

The workhorse

Yasmani Grandal is coming off his best season to date, hitting .228/.339/.477, and led all major league catchers in home runs (27) and walks (64). But it was also a season that saw him hitting .179/.292/.347 with seven home runs at the end of June. This was after an offseason of rehab following shoulder surgery.

This offseason, Grandal has been fully healthy, and despite showing up to Fan Fest 10 pounds lighter than he normally weighs to start spring training, he says he feels strong enough to resume the daily grind.

He’s the clear No. 1 behind the plate, as his increased workload showed last season.

Grandal started a career-high 106 games behind the plate in 2016, and his workload was especially heavy down the stretch. After 54 starts in 91 games before the All-Star break, he started 52 of the final 71 games of the season at catcher.

Ready for action

After two years of back-and-forth duty between Triple-A and the majors, the stage is set for Austin Barnes to seize the backup catcher job and stay in the majors all season. The deck was cleared for Barnes with the trade of Carlos Ruiz in November, rather than pick up the veteran’s option.

Barnes, 27, hit .304/.384/.460 in the last two seasons combined in Oklahoma City, with 61 extra-base hits and 30 steals in 166 games. Barnes also showcased his versatility with starts at second and third base the last two years, and even a stray start in center field in Triple-A in 2016.

It is entirely plausible that with Barnes ability to play multiple positions the Dodgers could at some point during the season carry three catchers, as they did last year during the National League Division Series.

In limited major league duty the last two years, totaling just 74 plate appearances, Barnes has hit just .180/.315/.230, but he has a good eye and his athleticism should serve him well both at and behind the plate.

“It’s his time,” manager Dave Roberts said of Barnes during the winter meetings.

But just in case things go south, Barnes does have an option remaining should the Dodgers go elsewhere at the backup backstop position.

The veteran option

Among the non-roster invitees in Dodgers camp is Bobby Wilson, with eight seasons of MLB experience under his belt and a 34th birthday coming in April.

The right-handed Wilson is a career .214/.268/.319 hitter, but his strength is behind the plate, with strong pitch framing numbers in two of the last three seasons.

The returnees

Kyle Farmer is in big league camp for a second straight season, after he was a non-roster invitee in 2016. He was added to the 40-man roster in November after hitting .256/.323/.395 in 74 games in Double-A Tulsa.

Farmer very well could be the next man up behind Grandal and Barnes, as the third catcher on the 40-man, but it seems likely he’ll spend quite a bit of time in Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he ended last year in the PCL playoffs.

Like Barnes, Farmer has versatility beyond the tools of ignorance. A college infielder at Georgia, Farmer has played 43 games at third base over the last two seasons.

Also in his second straight Dodgers camp is veteran catcher Jack Murphy, back on another minor league deal. The mustachioed switch-hitter turns 29 in April, and hit .250/.358/.327 in 73 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2016, with a nifty 14.4% walk rate.

The new kid in town

After seven years in the Orioles system, Wynston Sawyer signed with the Dodgers on Nov. 11 as a minor league free agent. The 25-year-old right-hander is the youngest catcher in Dodgers major league camp.

Sawyer hit .281/.421/.462 with 11 home runs in 89 games with Advanced Class-A Frederick in 2016, his third straight season in the Carolina League. He ended the season with three games in Double-A Bowie.

Sawyer owns a career 11.5% minor league walk rate, including a career-high 16.4% last year.

Conclusion

Everything is set up for Grandal to take a larger share of the workload behind the plate, after averaging 103 starts at catcher in his first two seasons with the Dodgers. And with Barnes ready to assume a major league role, the Dodgers bench should be more athletic in 2017.