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The Low Ceiling Barn(es)

Austin Barnes is a talented baseball player. He’s an elite contact hitter with some pop, has speed, and is a strong defender. What’s not to love? Well, there’s reason for worry that he won’t ever reach his ceiling, and for reasons that have nothing to do with his talent and not much to do with Yasmani Grandal.

Barnes’ 2017 didn’t come out of nowhere; he’s been a really good player in the minors for a number of years. However, his statistical output never matched up with the scouting community’s evaluation. They didn’t think his slight frame could handle a starter’s workload. So far he hasn’t proven them wrong:

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Games Started at Catcher 31 16 72 73 85 67 49

You can argue he hasn’t had the opportunity yet, but many minor league catchers start far more games behind the plate. Both the Marlins and the Dodgers organizations have decided not to give Barnes a full starter’s workload behind the plate despite his prowess there, instead opting to spread his playing time at other positions.

There’s a reason catchers are typically bigger and stronger players- catching is incredibly difficult. Barnes is listed as 5’10” and 190 pounds. As an historian by training, I wanted to see how many catchers of Barnes’ size have ever been a team’s primary catcher. Using a completely arbitrary sample size of the last 25 years, I looked for players that 1) were listed at 6’0″ or shorter, 2) weighed 200 lbs. or fewer, 3) had over 400 plate appearances in a season, and 4) were primarily a catcher (sorry, Brandon Inge).

From 1993-2017, a catcher crossed the 400 PA threshold 440 times. Of those instances, only 40 were done by catchers 6’0″/ 200 lbs or smaller, and only five were able to repeat the feat- Jason Kendall (14), Brad Ausmus (11), Mike Lieberthal (7), Kirt Manwaring (2) and Tucker Barnhart (2) (Mitch Meluskey, Greg Zaun, Jim Leyritz, Matt Walbeck each had one).  History is not kind to catchers of Barnes’ stature.

The Dodgers organizational philosophy will also put constraints on Austin’s playing time- they hoard depth at every position. Yasmani Grandal is still very good, and they have a bunch of prospects ranging from potentially adequate to potentially elite (Kyle Farmer, Will Smith, and Keibert Ruiz among others).  All of that conspires to limit Austin’s opportunities at catcher and second base (where Barnes also has eligibility at present).

All of these factors make it unlikely that Barnes will be able to consistently have enough playing time to be a strong fantasy catcher. I wouldn’t expect more than roughly 350 plate appearances (85-90 starts) this year, or in future seasons, without 1) Barnes proving to be an historical exception, and 2) the Dodgers dramatically changing their organizational philosophy on depth.

His 2017 was amazing, but he still has a lot to prove. For me, its too early to rank him as a top 10 catcher.

The Author

Kyler Jesanis

Kyler Jesanis

Kyler is a college admission counselor, currently residing in Rhode Island. An avid fantasy baseball player, Kyler has experience in deep leagues. The smallest league he currently plays in rosters 900 players. He has played in traditional 10/12/14 man leagues, both head-to-head and roto. With a wide array of interests, Kyler plans to dive in deep to a variety of topics, but primarily focusing on vouching for unheralded players.

6 Comments

  1. Josh
    January 27, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    I recently picked up Mejia (only catcher I’ll be keeping) and was looking at picking up Banres to potentially be my primary catcher this season. Would I be wise to stay away from him in favor of someone who is more established?

    • January 27, 2018 at 9:46 pm

      Congratulations on getting Mejia! As far as Barnes go, I think he is a very talented baseball player, and one of the better catchers on a per game basis in fantasy. Depending on the size of your league, I think he is absolutely a good starter/long term add. I personally had him ranked 13th in my catcher rankings, solely because I think his playing time is going to be somewhere between 350-400 plate appearances this year and in the future.
      What other options do you have for catchers in your league?

      • Josh
        January 27, 2018 at 10:15 pm

        It’s a 12 team league so there are some options. Most notable in the auction pool before keepers are set would be Gattis, d’Arnaud, Zunino, Castillo, and down the ranks from there. Seems like the better option might be to go with a guy like Gattis for the short term and not worry about wasting dollars on Barnes with Mejia in my pocket already. I am contending this year, so I’d like a degree of stability.

        • January 29, 2018 at 12:51 pm

          If you’re only worried about 2018, I would consider Gattis to be the best option. I think he’ll easily lead this group in plate appearances giving him more counting stats. For long term, I think Zunino, Castillo, and Barnes are all in the same tier and it just comes down to personal preference. You can make an argument for any one over the other, the team here at The Dynasty Guru believes Zunino is your best bet.

  2. Tony
    January 28, 2018 at 2:03 am

    The fact that Barnes logged 16 games at 2B last year, coupled with Logan Forsythe’s injury-proneness and inconsistent output when healthy, makes me want to take the over on your PA proections. The guys you mentioned didn’t have another position they could play to get out of the crouch but still stay in the lineup. Catchers who can DH or move to another position to get rest are fantasy gold, and I’ll be targeting Barnes in drafts. Heck, he might be a top 10 guy just with 400 PA. In just ~260 PAs last year he was C16. Factor in some regression, sure, but add 140 PAs and that’s a guy I want on my team.

    • January 29, 2018 at 12:48 pm

      That’s certainly possible. Barnes does have the versatility to play second base more frequently. That said, last year Barnes had a lot of opportunity to play second base more frequently last year with Forsythe struggling/hurt, and Utley being used sporadically. But he only started 4 games, and in his 21 appearances at 2nd only played 77 innings (roughly 3 2/3 innings an appearance). He appeared mostly as a late inning double switch/defensive replacement candidate.
      With Forsythe, Chris Taylor, Kike Hernandez, Jake Peter, and the rumored interest in a Chase Utley reunion, it seems to me the Dodgers aren’t going to rely on Austin as a second basemen with their plethora of other options. Barnes best contributions to the Dodgers is as a catcher, not at another position. I have no doubt he’ll appear at 2B this year, but I wouldn’t bet on more than like 3-5 starts there. So his versatility is certainly useful to the Dodgers and to fantasy owners, I just don’t think you get more than 30 or so plate appearances at that position (he had 31 last year).
      Also, Austin getting to 400 plate appearances will absolutely still be a useful fantasy catcher. I am in no way saying he shouldn’t be owned or be considered a starting catcher in most leagues/formats. I just don’t think he should be considered top 10 at the position for a dynasty league yet.

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