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Column: Dodgers should trade superb prospect Diego Cartaya if move lands them Juan Soto

Dodgers catching prospect Diego Cartaya, 20, runs the bases during the Futures Game on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.
(Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)
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There are prospects and there are potential franchise cornerstones.

Diego Cartaya is a potential franchise cornerstone.

He’s a teenage Clayton Kershaw with a catcher’s mask, a pre-debut Corey Seager with a chest protector.

The 20-year-old Venezuelan is as safe a bet as there is in an industry in which nothing is certain, with some Dodgers executives saying he could be their team’s centerpiece for more than a decade after he reaches the major leagues.

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I think the Dodgers should trade him.

More specifically, if they have to include him in a package to acquire Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals, they should trade him.

Once the Angels start negotiating with Shohei Ohtani on a new deal, the franchise should take the same approach the Nationals did with Juan Soto.

July 16, 2022

This wasn’t the column I expected to write in the days leading up to the Futures Game on Saturday, in which Cartaya played his first game at Dodger Stadium. I spoke to Dodgers and rival officials, who raved about his raw power and makeup.

“When he steps in the batter’s box, there’s a presence in the box,” said John Shoemaker, who managed Cartaya earlier this season in class-A Rancho Cucamonga. “When he goes behind the plate as a catcher, there’s a presence behind the plate. When he steps in the clubhouse, there’s a presence in the clubhouse.”

There were similar endorsements from others.

Their words weren’t any less convincing a day or two later.

What changed was that the 23-year-old Soto was suddenly available, as Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported the Nationals would “entertain” trade proposals for the All-Star outfielder after he rejected a 15-year, $440-million extension offer from them.

The Nationals' Juan Soto prepares for an at-bat against the Seattle Mariners on July 13, 2022.
The Washington Nationals reportedly will entertain trade proposals for All-Star outfielder Juan Soto after he rejected a 15-year, $440-million extension offer from them.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)
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Soto is a generational talent. He broke into the major leagues at 19 and produced immediately. He was a World Series champion in his second year and a batting champion in his third. He was a runner-up for the MVP award last year.

Cartaya could be a franchise player. Soto is a franchise player, and he is only three years older.

Soto is a perfect match for the Dodgers, a ready-made superstar who can help them maximize their current championship window but also a youthful impact player around whom they can build around in their next cycle.

Making Soto a long-term cornerstone would presumably cost the Dodgers, or any other team, more than $500 million. The Dodgers would be positioned to make the necessary commitment to retain Soto beyond his walk year in 2024, as they will clear more than $106 million in payroll after this season when Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, David Price, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson are free agents.

Say the Dodgers trade for Soto before the Aug. 2 trade deadline this year but fail to sign him to an extension and eventually lose him in free agency. They will still have Soto for three pennant races.

They will also have kept Soto from two division rivals who are likely to make runs at him, the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants.

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Druw Jones, the son of former Braves star Andruw Jones and a top prospect in the 2022 MLB draft, isn’t the only prospect with a former major league dad.

July 16, 2022

Soto is well-liked.

He’s intelligent and a quick learner, evidenced by how he became an English speaker in the year and a half between his arrival from the Dominican Republic to his major league debut.

That’s also how Cartaya is described.

Cartaya already speaks English fluently, which he credits in part to spending his last three offseasons in the South Carolina home of Travis Barbary, the manager of the Dodgers’ triple-A affiliate. Barbary was the organization’s former catching coordinator and has a son who played with Cartaya.

“He’s extremely mature for his age,” Barbary said.

Dodgers prospect Diego Cartaya waits for batting practice before a game Aug. 25, 2018.
(Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

Cartaya signed for $2.5 million as a 16-year-old but Barbary noted that his spending habits weren’t like that of the typical bonus baby.

Cartaya’s first car was a white 2018 Toyota Camry.

“I still have it,” Cartaya said. “I love it.”

His maturity extends to the clubhouse and on to the field, with Dodgers officials encouraged by his continual improvement both offensively and defensively.

Listed at 6 foot 3 and 219 pounds, Cartaya has 28 home runs in 142 career minor league games. He projects to be a high-end power hitter in the major leagues.

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Dodgers starter Tyler Anderson — who has had a spectacular first half, going 10-1 with a 2.96 ERA — is rewarded with a berth on the NL All-Star roster.

July 16, 2022

“It takes a special player to be able to improve in any area without getting a lot of reps and game time,” said Dodgers catching coordinator Rocky Gale. “What’s been remarkable in his development is that he’s in high-A at 20 and he really hasn’t played that much. He’s found a way to get better without the game reps that are normally required for that type of advancement.”

Cartaya has caught just 111 games professionally, but pitchers like throwing to him.

Shoemaker said it was because Cartaya’s body offers pitchers a “big target.” Gale guessed it was because of how Cartaya studies data and incorporates it into a game plans that accentuates his pitchers’ strengths.

Regarding his ability to retain information, Cartaya said, “It’s because I love baseball,” adding that in school, he was “probably not the best” student.

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July 16, 2022

There’s plenty to like about him. There’s plenty to like about what he could be.

But Soto is already that.

Maybe the Nationals think they have found a long-term solution in Keibert Ruiz, the last catching prospect the Dodgers sent them, and won’t ask for Cartaya to be part of any Soto deal.

Maybe they will, however.

In that case, the Dodgers will have to do something they don’t want to do. They will have to part ways with a prospect in whom they have invested heavily, both financially and emotionally. They will have to trade Diego Cartaya.

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