Dodgers minor league catchers mystery solved – for now

It was a head-scratcher for a few days but the mystery behind the movement of several catchers within the Dodgers minor league system has been solved. Unfortunately, the news is not all good.

Last Sunday the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes announced that top ranked Dodgers catching prospect Will Smith had been promoted to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers and that fellow top-ranked catching prospect Keibert Ruiz had be called up from the Low Single-A Great Lakes Loons to replace Smith on the Quakes 25-man roster. Smith, as you may recall, was the Dodgers first round compensatory selection in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Louisville in exchange for losing Zack Greinke to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ruiz, who turns 19 on July 20, was signed by the Dodgers as an international free agent out of Venezuela on his 16th birthday and has skyrocketed his way through the low minors and is already considered to be among the franchise’s top-ranked catching prospect right along with Smith.

Keibert Ruiz slugged his first home run as a Quake on Friday evening. Since his arrival to the Dodgers Advanced Single-A affiliate on Monday, Ruiz is 5-for-15 (.333) with a home run, a triple and a double. He has also done an exceptional job behind the plate for Rancho Cucamonga. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

But everything changed this past Thursday when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Quakes announced that their second catcher, 24-year-old Garrett Kennedy, had also been promoted to Double-A Tulsa and that 23-year-old catcher Garrett Hope had also been called up from Great Lakes to fill Kennedy’s spot on the Quakes roster.

Lo and behold, upon glancing at the Drillers roster, it revealed that they had six catchers listed, of which four are currently on the Drillers seven-day disabled list … including Will Smith.

It doesn’t take but a quick glance of the Drillers roster to see that they have taken quite a hit with their catchers recently. (Image courtesy of TulsaDrillers.com)

As it turns out and in an unfair twist of fate, Smith was hit on his right hand by a pitch thrown by Oakland A’s right-handed pitching prospect Carlos Navas in his debut with the Drillers on Monday, July 10, causing a small fracture. As a result, the popular Louisville, Kentucky native will be in a cast for approximately four weeks and on the shelf for at least six.

“Will was having a strong season, even better than his numbers suggest. He was spitting on borderline pitches and attacking strikes. He was driving the ball line to line,” Dodgers director of player development Gabe Kapler told our friends over at True Blue LA. “He’s grown tremendously behind the plate and in his interactions with pitchers. We’re all proud of him and look forward to having him back in late August assuming all goes well with his rehab.”

Catcher Will Smith is examined by a team trainer and Drillers coach Leo Garcia after being hit by a pitch on his right hand during his Texas League debut on Monday night.
(Video capture courtesy of MiLB.TV)

But wait, there’s more!

Keeping in line with all of the recent catcher surprises, you’ll also notice the familiar name of 28-year-old Shawn Zarraga on the Drillers roster. Zarraga was released by the Dodgers back on November 7, 2016, when he elected free agency. He was subsequently signed to a minor league deal by the Cincinnati Reds on November 25 and given a non-roster invitation to Reds major league spring training camp in 2017 but was later released from the team. But because of his well established relationship with the Dodgers and the fact that he is immensely popular among the Dodger players and even spent one day on the big league roster (although he did not play), the Dodgers signed the Oranjestad, Aruba native to a minor league contract on Friday, July 14 and assigned him to the Tulsa Drillers to fill in for Smith and the other injured catchers on the roster.

But wait, there’s even more!

On Friday the catchers musical chairs continued when Garret Hope was reassigned to the Dodgers Pioneer Rookie League Ogden Raptors without having made an appearance with the Quakes. He was replaced on the Quakes roster by 25-year-old Southern California native Brant Whiting, who had been assigned to the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers until he also landed on the disabled list. The Fullerton, California native and Dodgers 30th-round draft pick in 2014 out of Stanford University appeared in only three game with OKC, where he was 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts.

Although it is uncertain just how all of this will eventually play out once Smith, Paul Hoenecke, Sean O’Connell and Wynston Sawyer begin to filter their way back into action, it gives Messrs. Kennedy, Zarraga, Ruiz and Whiting opportunities that they otherwise may not have had. It also immediately brings to mind something that popular Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers catcher Jack Murphy once said: “That stuff can change with a foul ball.”

…or an errant pitch.

 

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One Response to “Dodgers minor league catchers mystery solved – for now”

  1. Bluenose Dodger says:

    That is a very good clarification of the catcher musical chairs. Good to see Shawn Zarraga back.

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