December 21, 2014

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview Part III: The Catchers

Wilson Ramos "zooms" to first base on his walk-off single win over Phillies, May 4 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Wilson Ramos “zooms” to first base on his walk-off single win over Phillies, May 4 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

Donning the tools of ignorance…

THE CATCHERS

Wilson Ramos: Ramos enters his age 26 season on an upswing, having mashed 16 homers in 303 PAs last season. The second of those numbers is the troubling one, as Ramos has spent much of the past two seasons recovering from various injuries. When he was healthy in ’11, he amassed 435 PAs and slugged .267/.334/.445. In ’12 he was on pace for that again, but only played 25 games due to knee surgery. Last year, it was a hamstring that limited him to 78 games. You get the point by now. If the Nats can keep Ramos healthy, they have a potential 20+ homer, All-Star behind the plate. If not, they made a move right before spring training to act as insurance.

Jose Lobaton: Meet Wilson Ramos insurance. The Nats acquired Lobaton from the Tampa Bay Rays the day before pitchers and catchers reported, along with two minor league prospects, in exchange for pitcher Nathan Karns. Lobaton is a late bloomer, as the 29-year-old has just 191 games of big league experience. Last year in 311 PAs, the switch-hitter hit .249/.320/.394 with seven homers while taking over when Jose Molina got injured. He’s a good defensive catcher, adept at framing pitches, and is universally praised by pitchers that have worked with him, though he doesn’t have the strongest throwing arm. He is the quintessential backup MLB catcher.

Jhonatan Solano: The man they call “Onion” has a great story – riding in the back of an onion truck across country lines in South America in order to attend a big league tryout camp. But his playing career is a pretty typical story – adequate behind the plate but not exceptional, just “okay” plate discipline for the position (career .302 OBP in almost 2,000 minor league PAs), and no power. Solano, 28, will continue to toil as a minor league catcher, but the Nats trade for Lobaton says all one needs to know about Solano’s chances in the majors. This was his shot, and instead the Nats went outside the organization and gave up a legitimate asset for help.

Sandy Leon: Leon, 25, just can’t hit. He’s a quality receiver with a good arm, but his lifetime minor league .237/.325/.325 masks his dreadful ’13, as he hit just .177/.294/.252 in 374 PAs. He was enjoying a good 2012, hitting .322/.396/.460 in just 64 games when Ramos’ knee injury necessitated his emergency call-up to the bigs. Then, in his debut game, he was run over by Chase Headley on a play at the plate, suffering a high ankle sprain that robbed him of much of the rest of his season. Perhaps his 2013 numbers were stifled with regaining strength in the leg. But nothing he had done prior to his outburst in ’12 indicates any real long-term gain.

Chris Snyder: Snyder was signed as a non-roster invitee and will probably be Solano’s caddy in Syracuse, kept around in case of catastrophic injury behind the plate. He was once a very useful catcher with pop, but at 33 he’s just hanging on for now.

Koyie Hill: Hill, 35, was once a highly-regarded catching prospect, but that clearly was last decade. He’s never hit in the Majors (.206/.266/.287) and was signed principally as a spring training bullpen catcher with Major League experience.

Washington Nationals trim spring roster to 33

With Opening Day just two weeks away, and manager Davey Johnson’s preference to play his starters heavily in the next-to-last week of Spring Training, the Washington Nationals sent out much of their Major League-ready backup talent to the minors before taking on the Detroit Tigers at Space Coast Stadium Monday morning.

The Nats today optioned right-handed pitchers Erik Davis, Yunesky Maya and Ryan Perry, catcher Jhonatan Solano, infielder Chris Marrero and outfielder Corey Brown to Syracuse of the Triple-A International League. Additionally, the Nationals re-assigned right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf and infielder Zach Walters to minor league camp.

Along with sending these players down, the Nats also granted catcher Chris Snyder his unconditional release. Snyder had an opt-out in his contract and is expected to sign a contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Snyder move signals that the team is comfortable with Wilson Ramos to open the season on the active roster. Ramos missed much of last season with two surgeries to his knee.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats fall to Mets 5-3 in spring opener

nats st opener

Denard Span steps into the box against the Mets in the Nats Spring Training opener. (photo courtesy L. Albisu)

Even as much as a perfectionist that Stephen Strasburg is, even he can’t be too upset with the first performance of the season. Strasburg gave up three hits and two runs on mostly fastballs in two innings in the Washington Nationals Grapefruit League opener and the Nats fell to the New York Mets, 5-3, at Legends Field in Port St. Lucie, FL. (More photos).

The first start of spring training is meant to get the rust off and adjust to pitching with adrenaline for the first time of the year, and Strasburg looked like he had plenty of rust and was a little too amped up. He did not have the fine fastball control on his 42 pitches and gave up a two-run home run in the first inning to slap-hitting shortstop Ruben Tejada. Granted, the ball carries well to left center at Tradition Field, but the 3-2 pitch was a belt-high fastball that Tejada just squared up against Strasburg.

But the Nats ace didn’t walk a batter, coaxed three groundouts and struck out his final hitter to end the second inning.

Craig Stammen took over and threw two innings himself. He gave up a run on three hits and struck out one.

Cole Kimball, returning from rotator cuff surgery, threw a scoreless inning as the last Nats pitcher of the day.

Washington combined for eight hits, including two from non-roster invitee catcher Chris Snyder, who homered in his first at bat against Mets starter Shawn Marcum. Ian Desmond singled and scored a run while Chris Marrero doubled and scored for the visiting Nats.

The Nats turned two double plays, both by Zach Walters and Will Rhymes, most likely the middle infield for AAA-Syracuse this season.

The Nationals host the Miami Marlins Sunday at 1:05 pm in their home opener from Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.

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