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'Special time' for Dodgers' catching depth

Oklahoma City manager discusses four of L.A.'s backstop prospects
February 15, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With the departure of Yasmani Grandal, the re-acquisition of Russell Martin to pair with Austin Barnes and the rumored pursuit of J.T. Realmuto, there's been plenty of concern about the Dodgers' catching situation in 2019.As for prospects, though, the Dodgers are deeper behind the plate than they've

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With the departure of Yasmani Grandal, the re-acquisition of Russell Martin to pair with Austin Barnes and the rumored pursuit of J.T. Realmuto, there's been plenty of concern about the Dodgers' catching situation in 2019.
As for prospects, though, the Dodgers are deeper behind the plate than they've been in decades.
Four of their top 18 prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline are catchers -- No. 2 Keibert Ruiz, No. 5 Will Smith, No. 12 Diego Cartaya and No. 18 Connor Wong.
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Travis Barbary, who has been in the trenches of the Dodgers' farm system for a quarter-century, was recently promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City manager from organizational catching coordinator, a role where he was responsible for the development of the quartet.
"From a catching standpoint, it's a special time for this organization," said Barbary. "To have this amount, and there are others with a chance to do well. Look at the depth. Our scouts did a great job and it's going to be really fun to watch them progress."
Ruiz, only 20, signed for $140,000 out of Venezuela, spent all last season at Double-A Tulsa and has spent parts of the past three offseasons living with Barbary and his family in South Carolina.
"Very quiet, confident," Barbary said of Ruiz. "Carries himself like a big leaguer since the day he signed. Got that 'it' factor. I feel like the moment's never too big for him. Things never speed up. You watch him around the guys last year at big league camp, he just fit right in. It's really hard to believe he just turned 20 in July. From a physical standpoint, plus receiver. Doing a better job with the information we give him, the scouting reports.
"He's a very instinctual player who relies on what he sees, but he's doing a good job taking information he'll have at the big league level and blending that with what he sees. Offensively, he's legit. We're really fortunate to have a guy like that in the system. The future's really bright for him."

Smith, a first-round Draft pick in 2016, is 23 and closest to the Major Leagues, with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman saying he has Gold Glove defensive skills.
"Defensively, [Smith's] probably as good as anybody we've had come through here since Russell [Martin] from a defensive standpoint," said Barbary. "Very athletic, just the progression as far as his receiving. [Catching coordinator] Ryan Sienko has done a lot to help him. A dynamic thrower, controls the running game behind the plate. Can make athletic plays in front of the plate, on a bunt, ball in the dirt, ability to back pick. He's an elite thrower. He's gotten more comfortable leading the pitching staff.
"Sky's the limit for this dude defensively. The numbers he put up last year offensively, he'll have a good year. He's really special."

The 17-year-old Cartaya signed last July out of Venezuela for $2.5 million, and this will be his first professional season.
"I saw [Cartaya] in [the Dominican Republic] this summer and he came to instructional league," said Barbary. "Really physical for a young kid. You see the tools and skills. I don't have as good a feel because I haven't seen him in that much game action, but he came and spent two weeks with me a couple weeks ago. ... Very big personality, outgoing kid, loves to work.
"Once he gets to the States, starts playing, the physical skills will develop. To be as young as he is, as physical as he is and project three or four years from now, he's a guy you get really excited about."

Wong is 22 and is still a work in progress behind the plate, having caught only one season in college before the Dodgers drafted him in 2017. He hit 19 homers at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga last year.
"[Wong's] another guy, our scouts did a great job," said Barbary. "He hadn't caught a lot when we drafted him. Really athletic defender. Got a chance to be an everyday guy behind the plate when he gets to the big leagues. Ryan's helped him develop the receiving skill. A really good thrower in our system. Athletic, good range behind the plate. I've seen him hit well. Another one of those guys you see and say, 'Man, we've got another really player back there.' A lot of credit to the scouts for seeing the upside."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.