PHOENIX — Kyle Farmer made his way to the big leagues last season thanks to his versatility and the strength of his bat. But it is his offseason work behind the plate that could help him make a bigger impact in 2018.
Specifically, it was all in the hips.
“His hips were really tight and he couldn’t squat. As he tried to get into that squat position it was more of a stab at the baseball but now he can work underneath the baseball,” manager Dave Roberts said. “His hips are more naturally lower now. His hands really play, and he really is a good, accurate thrower but it was the receiving that was in question for us.”
Farmer was an infielder at the University of Georgia but converted to catcher when the Dodgers drafted him in the eighth round in 2013. Stretching his hips didn’t come naturally.
“It was my fault. I never really stretched, but who does growing up? We didn’t really know about that stuff,” Farmer said. “Then over time it just kept getting tighter and tighter, plus I had never caught before so I never learned how to stretch.
“I would stretch a little bit in the minors the past three years, but I didn’t really focus on it as much because I didn’t think it was that important. But watching film of Yaz and Barnes in the offseason I saw the position they were getting in, and I couldn’t get in that position. I had to figure out how to get in that position.”
The Dodgers’ two main catchers — Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes — rank among the best in the league at framing pitches, and served as a catalyst for Farmer’s offseason program, devised by Dodgers strength coach Brandon McDaniel.
“My framing stats were average but to get to where I want to be you have to be great at it,” Farmer said. “Positioning your body in the correct way helps you get there.”
Farmer said he would do daily rolls with a baseball over the soft tissue points in his hips to release the tension, then a series of stretches and even mixed in Pilates to help increase the flexibility.
“This offseason my fiancée would get mad at me because I was stretching and not paying her enough attention,” Farmer said.
Farmer was up with the Dodgers for 46 days in 2017 and played in 20 games, though 13 of his 20 plate appearances came as a pinch hitter. He started just one game, and that was at first base, and played in parts of four games at third base. He didn’t catch until the final week of the season, appearing in a total of seven innings in three games behind the plate.
His start on Saturday was one more than he had all last spring at catcher, where he caught 10 total innings in Cactus League games. This year the Dodgers plan to have him catch more often.
All the stretching has not only helped Farmer behind the plate, but at it as well.
“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.”
Farmer was 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored on Saturday, and he caught six innings in the Dodgers’ 9-3 loss to the Giants.
He hit .305/.354/.480 with Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2017, and that helped him get his first major league call up. Farmer made the Dodgers’ roster in both the NLDS against the Diamondbacks and NLCS against the Cubs, and made five pinch-hit appearances.
“The value of playing everyday, getting repetitions behind the plate and getting at-bats, but to his credit he was on our postseason roster,” Roberts said. “He adds value in so many different ways, including his ability to conduct an at-bat off the bench, which is hard to do.”
The Dodgers dropped a pair of games on Saturday. In addition to the home loss to the Giants, a split squad also lost 8-4 to the Royals in Surprise. Matt Beaty homered in the road loss.
The Dodgers are back to just one game on Sunday, traveling to Peoria with Clayton Kershaw on the mound making his 2018 spring debut against the Mariners in a 12:10 p.m. PT start.