By Jon Weisman
Twelve players in Dodger history have played both catcher and second base. Ten have played catcher, second and third.
No one in Dodger history has played more than 10 games at catcher, second base and third base. Only Derrel Thomas has played even five games at all three positions, and Thomas was truly an emergency catcher.
Austin Barnes, who came to the Dodgers from Miami in December, has the chance to carve out a unique place with the franchise.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder has split his minor-league career almost evenly between catcher (195 games) and second base (150 games), with a dash of third base (15 games, all in 2014) thrown in.
Barnes will report to Spring Training in two weeks with pitchers and catchers, and is ostensibly third on the backstop depth chart behind the duo of Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis — which could mean the minor leagues on Opening Day. But his versatility is a neon calling card and will be an asset whenever he makes his MLB debut.
“I just like playing,” Barnes said Saturday at FanFest. “Whether it’s catching, second or third, I just like to be out there.”
A Riverside native who grew up watching the Dodgers before playing at Arizona State, Barnes was an all-conference catcher as a junior in 2011, but in his first full minor-league season, with Single-A Greensboro in 2012, he played 104 games at second base. Then in 2013, it was mainly back to catcher, with last year bringing a nearly even split once he was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville (30 games at second base, 29 at catcher).
According to Barnes, there are more similarities between the positions than you might think.
“I think it’s your hands working,” he said. “It’s mostly your hands. Obviously, the throwing’s a little different. The footwork, you have to get used to. I think one of the biggest challenges of transferring from infield to catcher is blocking the balls, but receiving is something that I think works together with infield and catching.
“I prepare for both. I don’t ever throw one out the window. I think it’s good to have those doors open.”
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Barnes, who turned 25 in December, has another noteworthy skill that could put him in good stead in 2015, and that’s selectivity at the plate. In his professional career, he has 217 walks compared with 213 strikeouts and a .390 on-base percentage. At Double-A, he walked 50 times and struck out 36 while OPSing .913 (with 12 homers in 284 at-bats).
“I just kind of take pride in not striking out,” Barnes said. “That’s just something that I put in my mind that it’s not going to happen when I go up there. Obviously it happens, but I usually have a plan up there and try to execute. … I just try to get on base all I can, and you can’t really do that if you’re striking out.”
Barnes isn’t the only acquisition from Miami with multipositional potental: Kike Hernandez made his MLB debut at age 22 last year and played six positions. But if he can truly become a reserve infielder/catcher, Barnes will have done something like no other Dodger ever.