Dodgers Prospects: Analyzing The Minor League Catchers
As the Dodgers enter the off-season moving towards the 2019 season the biggest question mark revolves around the catchers. Yasmani Grandal is a free agent (he could return) and Austin Barnes forgot how to hit. Even if Grandal comes back for a year the catching situation at the Major League level is a major question mark going forward. However, as many know, there is good news; the Dodgers have some amazing catchers in the minors. We will go over some of the main prospects and, maybe, some you haven’t heard of. I was able to speak with the Rancho Cucamonga Manager the last 3 years, Drew Saylor, about the guys that he’s had and was alerted to some by @RaptorsStringer.
Keibert Ruiz – age 20, Tulsa (AA), ETA 2020
I was able to see some of Ruiz during the season a bit with the MiLB First Pitch application on my iPhone. However, when I saw him on the MLB Network in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) All-Star game I saw a smooth handler of pitches and some good approaches at the plate. On the offensive side, Drew Saylor spoke of his cleanness of the swing with a bat/ball approach resembling Victor Martinez (a hero of Ruiz – both switch hitters). Defensively, Saylor spoke of his soft hands, tools and baseball intelligence.
In some reviews I’ve read about Ruiz there needs to be some improvement in his throwing. To get a good glimpse of the type of character and work ethic Ruiz has, read about his unlikely family.
Will Smith – age 23, Oklahoma City (AAA), ETA mid-2019
I have not been able to get any up close action of Smith. Offensively, it seems he struggles a bit at different times. AAA was extra tough on him as indicated by his slash line of .138/.206/.218/.425. However, in AA his slash line was .264/.358/.532/.890.
Defensively, Drew Saylor raved about his “electric arm”, continued improvement in his receiving, his blocking is strong and his catch and throw is “elite”. Offensively, Saylor spoke about how he has grown a lot. That really began to show in AA as he hit 19 homers in just 265 at-bats. I hope he can cut down on his strikeouts.
As with many Dodgers, versatility is valued and Smith plays a pretty good third base and can even play second in a pinch. He also has above average sprint speed. Here is a story about his Rookie Career Development Program experience. We all know what we really want, Will Smith (the lefty) facing our Will Smith. It could happen as early as 2019.
Connor Wong – age 22, Rancho Cucamonga (A), ETA late-2020
Wong, like Will Smith, is a versatile player who has good speed also. He started his college career as a shortstop and learned how to catch after his freshman year. Drew Saylor spoke of his ability to play a quality second and third base. He played a lot of second base when I saw him play and he looks excellent at that position.
As a catcher, Saylor spoke of him having soft hands, a good grasp on game calling and an improving transfer when throwing out base stealers. Saylor also said he’s a steady leader, which is important for a catcher. On the offensive side, Saylor cited that Wong made a lot of strides later in the season to be a key contributor during the stretch drive. Wong got off to a hot start with a lot of homers but hit a slump. He seems to be a grinder with excellent athletic ability. I would not be surprised if he plays a lot of second base at the Major League level, given how much talent there is at the catching position.
Steve Berman – Age 23, Rancho Cucamonga (A), ETA 2021
Berman might be someone you’ve not heard of but I was impressed with him. Drew Saylor called him a “glue guy” who was excellent for the team culture. As I observed, the team culture for the Quakes was amazing and Berman was a big part of it. He seemed to be the funniest guy on the team also.
Berman’s season started slowly as he was off and on the disabled list 4 times through July 5th. He was able to make some key contributions during clutch times once he came back. Offensively, Saylor spoke of his knowledge of the situation, taking professional at-bats and was well prepared. From a defensive perspective, he receives well and calls a good game. He’s a student of the game and showed great improvement from 2017 to 2018. With some health, he will get a lot of playing time in 2019 and will make some big strides.
Given his personality and preparation habits, he can be in this game for a long time past his playing career. Here is an interview of Steve with Steve Douglas:
Ramon Rodriguez – age 20, Great Lakes (low A), ETA 2022
Rey-Rey started the season with Great Lakes but was sent down to Ogden. Offensively, he’s someone who will take a walk and had some nice overall batting numbers in 2017. My source, @RaptorsStringer says that his caught stealing percentage was 36% which is not too bad. Rodriguez has an opportunity to move up in 2019 and I would not be surprised to see him in Rancho Cucamonga soon.
Marco Hernandez – age 20, Ogden (rookie), ETA 2022
Another tip from Joe @RaptorsStringer, Hernandez has some nice offensive numbers. He’s got some height at 6’2” but is built more like an infielder. This might be a player to keep our eyes on.
Diego Cartaya – age 17, did not play, ETA mid-2021
Cartaya, by many accounts, was the top international prospect of the 2018 signing period. He’s already 6’2” and weighs around 200 pounds. According to MiLB he’s very advanced defensively and has a mature approach at the plate. He’s shown a willingness to go to the opposite field and could be more of a higher average hitter than a power hitter.
Drew Saylor told me that he thinks catchers have a 3-fold difficulty than other positions players. They get beat up more than anyone else and are on-field leaders. The Dodgers do have an amazing set of prospects at the catching position. It is something to be excited about but the Dodgers have a hole there for 2019. Who steps in and fills that hole?
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Thanks for the article. It’s a relevant topic. Looks like they have a catcher ready to emerge every yr!
An addition to your list, Hunter Feduccia. Drafted last June in the 12th round out of LSU he had a solid season for the GL Loons (.290/.381/.350/.731) with solid defensive stats. Only 21, Baseball America scouting report included, “Feduccia has a solid batting eye and gap-to-gap power… defensively, (he) has an average arm and the tools to be an average receiver. He’s got a chance to be a well-rounded catching prospect.”
Thanks for the tip. I’ll keep an eye on Feduccia. There just wasn’t much on him yet.
I hope Smith can make the team out of Spring Training. It would be nice to see a catcher who can actually catch.
Red Sox would love to take one of the lower level catchers and an arm for Swihart. Blake should by all rights b the Sox starter. It was handed to Vaz after Blake was judged harshly in 15. He was hurt when forced to OF if asked RSN would hand him the job by a large margin He will be out in Boston so why not move him to LA where He can be an asset as a starter or as the back up catcher and utility man
Vazquez and Leon are both better defensively than Swihart (statistically) but I think the Bosox would take Kyle Farmer (1 remaining minor league option) and a pitcher like Andrew Sopko in return. Pairing Barnes with Swihart in a platoon (Swihart a much better LH hitter so far) would give the Dodgers a low cost bandaid until Smith and/or Ruiz are ready.
Interesting. The way options are being limited already that sounds like something to pursue.
This is a no brainer, we the talent in our farm system. Why don’t we use what we have. Grandal and Barnes need more batting practice.
Grandal is a FA and likely finds a better offer from another team
I agree, the Dodgers can put together a catching solution with Barnes, Farmer and Smith all to fight over the two slots. Barnes has hit at every level and hit the year before. Sometimes guys get in a bad habit and cannot fix it during the season. I look for Barnes to be able to come back solid offensively next year and both Farmer and Smith can fight it out for back up. Smith will improve I saw him in minors and he looks solid defensively and around the plate looks to have good at bats. I would absolutely NOT sign Grandal… From your catcher you want a great game called and very solid defense so the pitcher can throw anything and not be afraid of a passed ball. If he can put the bat on the ball so much the better. I have heard great things from friends that have been able to watch Ruiz and Wong play.
really? smith eta 2019? a 140 hitter. he could barely hit AA this year. and ruiz eta 2020? hes 20 years old. these 2 guys wont be anywhere near the bigs in the next 3 years or ever probably. you are letting your lack of knowledge interfear with your common sense.
I don’t see anyone in this article who is ready for prime time
Agree. The need to fill the gap.