The Los Angeles Dodgers entered the 2019 season with Austin Barnes and Russell Martin slated to share responsibilities at the catcher position, but those plans were eventually scrapped due to a combination of their struggles and Will Smith’s success in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
The 24-year-old, after being promoted for a third time in late July, was given the starting job behind the plate going forward. Smith immediately picked up where he left off in his previous stints with the Dodgers, finishing the month with a 1.621 on-base plus slugging.
Smith’s hot hitting extended into August, where he batted .270/.353/.649 with four doubles, eight home runs and 19 RBI in 85 plate appearances (24 games, 19 starts). With the exception of a minor slump in September, he has exceeded expectations at the plate.
Despite thriving behind the dish as well, there have been rumblings his unfamiliarity with the Dodgers’ starting rotation and pitching staff has led to a few recent miscues. Manager Dave Roberts took a broader scope.
“There’s a learning curve but the responsibility is on all of us,” he said. “It’s more of knowing that the more repetitions and innings you get with each pitcher, the more familiarity, trust and confidence you get.
“And that works both ways with the rhythm of the game, execution and all that stuff. We’re in a little bit of a funk as far as starters, but I think if you look at any starting staff in baseball, we all go through that. I don’t think it’s something that we’re not going to overcome.”
In what has generally been a dominating season for the Dodgers starting rotation, the group has taken a step back over the last two-plus weeks of play. Since Aug. 23, the unit owns a 4.38 ERA, 4.14 FIP and 4.09 xFIP in 96.2 innings pitched (21 games).
Smith appeared in 17 of those contests — 13 of which he was the starting catcher. Perhaps coincidentally, he is batting just .154/.214/.212 with one home run and three RBI during the span.
Not only is it unfair to pin all of the Dodgers’ starting pitching woes on Smith, he additionally deserves credit for even being in position to play meaningful innings for the club this October.
Despite his recent struggles, Smith has continued garnering praise across the league. A National League scout recently deemed the rookie the best all-around catcher in MLB, likening him to longtime San Francisco Giants backstop Buster Posey.