There are two fascinating rookies on the Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day roster, albeit fascinating for very different reasons. Let’s take a look at catcher Austin Barnes and outfielder Andrew Toles.
Austin Barnes, C-INF: Barnes was originally drafted by the Florida Marlins in the ninth round in 2011 from Arizona State University. He came to the Dodgers in December 2014 Andrew Heaney/Dee Gordon trade, then spent most of 2015 and 2016 in Triple-A with a few cups of coffee mixed in, accumulating 62 major league at-bats. He’s an older prospect at age 27 but has nothing left to prove in the minors, owning a career .299/.388/.439 line in pro ball.
I ranked him 12th on the Dodgers Top 20 prospects list for 2017 with the following comment:
Austin Barnes, C-INF, Grade B-: Age 27; older prospect but has a consistent track record of success; hit .295/.380/.443 in Triple-A with 18 steals. 43 walks, 53 strikeouts in 336 at-bats; hit .156/.270/.188 in 32 MLB at-bats; good plate discipline with gap power; very effective baserunner despite average speed; solid defender who is also competent at second base and third base; versatility and solid hitting ability give him value even if upside projection is limited by age. ETA 2017.
Barnes hit .190 but with a .333 OBP and .429 SLG in 42 spring training at-bats, earning his way onto the roster as a backup catcher to Yasmani Grandal. But Barnes is not a normal backup catcher: he is also a solid gloveman at second base and has some experience at third base and the outfield. He can even steal a base, swiping 18 last year.
The various projection systems view him as a .250ish hitter with an OBP around .320 and a SLG in .375 territory. Combine that with the quality glovework, speed, and versatility, and you have a uniquely valuable utility player, important in this age of small benches and huge pitching staffs. The Grade B- is aggressive given his age but in addition to all his other qualities, I think there’s a surprise season in the bat down the line.
Andrew Toles, OF: Like Barnes, Toles is a unique prospect but for very different reasons. A year ago he was on no one’s prospect list, but through his first 49 major league games and 110 at-bats he’s hitting .318/.367/.500.
I ranked him fourth on the Dodgers prospect list for 2017 with the following view:
4) Andrew Toles, OF, Grade B: Age 24, third round pick in 2012 by the Rays; career seemed over due to personal issues but signed with Dodgers as free agent in late ’15 and exploded in ’16, hitting .331/.374/.511 in 323 at-bats at three levels then .314/.365/.505 with eight walks, 25 strikeouts in 105 at-bats in majors; line drive hitter with 70-grade speed and 50/55-grade power; can be aggressive at the plate and there’s some understandable hesitancy to fully buy in given unusual background; has sharp platoon splits and may ultimately be a platoon bat rather than a 600-at-bat regular, albeit an excellent platoon bat. ETA 2017.
Toles continued to rake in spring training, hitting .306/.317/.452 in 62 at-bats and solidifying his spot on the roster. In addition to overcoming the personal problems that almost destroyed his career with the Rays, he made mechanical tweaks to his swing under the tutelage of coach Shawn Wooten. Toles made further changes this spring to improve his plate discipline and while he’ll likely always be an aggressive hitter, I don’t see any reason to doubt his ability to be a very productive platoon bat.