Austin Barnes

© Sarah Morris, 2020

Since Austin Barnes does not hit many home runs or has a high batting average, many casual baseball observers do not appreciate what Barnes brings to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite not having many crucial hits during the 2020 postseason, Barnes’ handling of the pitching staff enabled the Dodgers to win their first world championship in 32 years.

In 2011, Austin “Sam” Barnes was drafted by the Florida Marlins out of Arizona State University. The Marlins converted Barnes from being an infielder to a catcher.

In December 2014, the Dodgers sent starting pitcher Dan Haren, second baseman Dee Gordon, and cash to the Marlins for Barnes, Kiké Hernandez, and relief pitcher Chris Hatcher. From the beginning of his Dodger career, Barnes’ catlike reflexes impressed the Dodgers. Although he possesses a weak throwing arm for a catcher, he usually makes accurate throws to anywhere on the infield. He pounces on passed balls and wild pitches quickly if he cannot block them. He frames pitches on the corners of the strike zone well and works with pitchers expertly. Clayton Kershaw rather throws to Barnes than to Will Smith, who is a much better offensive player than Barnes is.

Offensively, Barnes is a .230 lifetime hitter with little power. In the Minor Leagues, he was an excellent hitter, and many teammates thought Barnes would win a batting championship sometime during his Major League career. Their prediction had not come true, and at 31, Barnes is unlikely to win a batting championship.

In 2020, playing in 29 games, Barnes had a .244 batting average and a .353 on-base percentage with 1 home run. This year, during the postseason, he had a .320 batting average with 1 home run. His on-base percentage of .393 in the playoffs was a huge key to the Dodgers’ success. Mookie Betts helped Barnes with his offensive struggles.

Since the Dodgers have Keibert Ruiz coming to the Major Leagues soon, Dodger fans think Barnes expandable. Ruiz may be a great Major-League catcher, but he does not have the experience that Barnes has. The Dodgers need Barnes to tutor both Smith and Ruiz on how to handle a pitching staff.

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