By Jon Weisman
Before the 2015 season, Austin Barnes had played 195 professional games at catcher, and nearly the same amount (166) at second base and third.
So it came as something of a surprise that the Dodgers had him dedicate last season exclusively to playing behind the plate, save for single appearances at second and third with the big-league club in September.
The year paid off in terms of Barnes’ development as a backstop, and now, the Dodgers have put the other positions back on the table — all good news for Barnes’ Major League aspirations.
“I think obviously you create more value for yourself if you’re playing other positions, especially in the National League,” Barnes said. “I’m open to playing second, third, catching – whatever they want me to do.”
Dodger manager Dave Roberts said Saturday that Barnes would soon see Cactus League action at second base and/or third.
In 2012, Barnes was essentially a full-time second baseman, playing 104 games there for Single-A Greensboro in the Marlins organization.
“It’s just kind of like riding a bike, playing second base or going back to the infield,” Barnes said. “You’ve been doing it your whole life, and it’s just getting back to the rhythm of the game. It’s just a different mentality. Catching, you’re (involved) with every single pitch — it runs through you. You kind of have the tempo of the game, going toward you.”
Barnes said he has always had “good hands, soft hands” as an asset defensively, and going forward his focus is on improving in the nuances of the infield, such as footwork. That’s after gaining lots of knowledge wearing the tools of ignorance in 2015.
“Defensively, I felt like I could handle myself at the plate, (but) just maturing as a catcher was big,” he said. “Understanding the position. Anytime you can get to log innings, (experience) different situations, it’s going to help you.”
Wherever he plays, Barnes brings an intriguing bat. In his professional career, he has a lifetime on-base percentage of .389, with more walks (252) than strikeouts (249).
“Our college coach really instilled in us plate discipline, getting on base and stuff like that,” said Barnes, who played at Arizona State. “And also when I started catching, I started understanding more what the pitchers were trying to do when I was hitting, so I think that kind of translated to a better way to take my at-bats.”