The Washington Nationals finished the 2012 season with the best regular season record in their short history since the relocation in 2005 at 98-64 and a bitterly disappointing loss in the best-of-five National League Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. In this series, we’ll take a look at each of the 43 players that appeared for the Nats in this historic season, grade them, and evaluate their position going forward. Age listed is 2013 Opening Day; grades are relative to expectation.
Today, we look at the catchers.
Jesus Flores (28): 296 plate appearances. .213/.248/.329. 12 doubles, 1 triple, 6 homers, 26 RBIs. 59 Ks/13 BBs. Flores proved his health this season, but showed little at the plate and struggled throwing out base runners (9-of 60, 15%), though that’s symptomatic of all Nats catchers due to the pitchers’ problems with holding runner. Flores is third-year arbitration eligible so his salary will bump up from his $850 base last season, though probably not appreciably enough to warrant letting him go for that reason alone. He’ll stand third on the depth chart however entering spring training, so it’s not out of the question the team does not offer him arbitration and allows him to leave as a free agent. Grade: C-
Kurt Suzuki (29): 164 plate appearances. .267/.321/.404. 5 doubles, 0 triples, 5 homers, 25 RBIs. 20 Ks/11 BBs. Acquired in a mid-season trade, Suzuki did everything the Nats hoped he would upon arrival. He mightily struggled in Oakland this season after several years on 15-homer power. Reunited with Davey Johnson and Rick Eckstein, who had him with the U.S. Olympic team, Suzuki cut down his stroke and made better contact in the N.L. Threw out 5-of-33 (15.1%) of base stealers in N.L. after nabbing 23-of-60 (38.3%) in A.L. in first half speaks to Nats pitchers complete ineptitude of holding runners. Under contract through 2013 for $5.21M with team option in ’14. Will enter spring as No. 1 catcher. Grade: B
Wilson Ramos (25): 96 plate appearances. .265/.354/.398. 2 doubles, 0 triples, 3 homers, 10 RBIs. 19 Ks, 12 BBs. Ramos remains the Nationals best long-term fixture at the position, but after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in May and the subsequent surgeries June 1 and July 18, Ramos might not be ready to start catching in spring training. Even then, they will want to take an abundance of caution not to put full-time stress on that knee until he’s in full baseball shape. Threw out 4-for-23 (17.3%) base stealers in limited time. Will be backup and work his way back into the lineup as the season progresses and he gets stronger. Ramos is not arbitration eligible until 2014. Grade: incomplete-injury
Jhonatan Solano (27): 37 plate appearances. .314/.351/.571. 3 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 6 RBIs. 5 Ks/2 BBs. The man they call “Onion” made his Major League debut at age 26 this season and didn’t look overmatched at the plate at all. But he’s a career .250/.306/.339 hitter in seven minor league seasons, so Solano isn’t a real prospect. He’s thrown out 33 percent of base stealers in the minors though, so he has some proficiency behind the plate. Still, he looks more like organizational depth than a player looking to get a chance in to prove himself in the big leagues. Battled an oblique injury all year that limited him to just 141 total plate appearances across Majors and minors. Grade: A, in extremely limited duty.
Sandy Leon (24): 36 plate appearances. .267/.389/.333. 2 doubles, 0 triples, 0 homers, 2 RBIs. 11 Ks/4 BBs. Leon was the unfortunate catcher that was called up, started, and injured in his first game. He came back later in the season for a few at bats after the roster expanded. He hit .322/.396/.460 across three levels in the minors this season, mostly for AA-Harrisburg so he looks like he has a pretty good idea of what to do at the plate. Not eligible for arbitration. Grade: B
Carlos Maldonado (34): 12 plate appearances. .000/.182/.000. 1 RBI. 4 Ks/2 BBs. Maldonado has amassed 74 plate appearances in parts of four Major League seasons. He’s a AAA catcher, only to be used at the Major League level in the most dire of circumstances. He could return as a minor league free agent to catch at Syracuse.