Roberts Projects Smith Will Start Around 90 Games.

On Friday afternoon, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts shed some light on what to expect for the upcoming 2021 season when it comes to the Dodgers catching strategy. Roberts estimated that Will Smith will start “somewhere around 90 games,” which more than likely means Austin Barnes will be behind the plate for the remaining 70 games or so. The Dodgers are fortunate to have developed two Major League starting catchers, so it’s just another embarrassment of riches. Earlier this offseason Roberts referred to the catching duo as “1 and 1A.”

Both of these catchers offer strengths but in opposite ways. Will Smith is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Last season he had a slash line of .289/.401/.579 with 8 home runs and 25 RBIs. He’s had a strong Spring by batting .346 with 1 HR and 3 RBIs. However, defensively he has disappointed by being graded as one of the worst framers in the league, which was unexpected because he was actually drafted for his glove. His struggles on defense have carried over this Spring, Kershaw surrendered 5 runs, Urías struggled, as did Price during Smith’s most recent starts.

Meanwhile Austin Barnes has challenged Will Smith for the catching job, not only with his glove, but with the bat as well. Barnes is having a phenomenal Spring by batting .391 with 1 HR and 5 RBIs. Call it the Mookie Betts effect, but ever since the two have started working together, Barnes has been reinvigorated as a hitter and it’s paying off. Barnes was one of the best framers in the sport during the 2020 season, and his ability to formulate a game plan to call balls and strikes does not go unrecognized by the Dodgers pitchers. Roberts leaned on Barnes to catch the pitching staff when it came down to the wire during the NLCS and World Series, which ultimately led to the Dodgers capturing their first World Series championship since 1988. Barnes caught Buehler during Game 6 the NLCS and Buehler credited Barnes after the game by acknowledging that it was essentially the most calm he had ever felt. Barnes also caught all four of the Dodgers World Series wins, and there’s clearly a reason the greatest pitcher of this generation, Clayton Kershaw, is so high on the Riverside native.

Entering the 2021 season, the Dodgers possess a luxury at the catching position. We’ll see if Roberts estimate holds up as the season progresses. We didn’t even talk about Keibert Ruiz, who is nearly a Major League ready catcher himself and is the top rated prospect in the Dodgers pipeline.

Author: Kevin Klein
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photo credit: Chat Sports