This week, District Sports Page has taken a look at the players that should comprise the 2013 roster of the Washington Nationals. Following a record-setting season last year that saw the Nats finish first in the N.L. East and advance to the playoffs for the first time since the relocation, GM Mike Rizzo has tweaked the roster a bit and expectations have never been higher for the organization, which is expected to be a legitimate World Series contender this season.
PROJECTED OPENING DAY CATCHERS: Kurt Suzuki, Wilson Ramos, Chris Snyder. First callups: Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon, Carlos Maldonado. Down on the Farm: Spencer Kieboom.
Kurt Suzuki: Suzuki, 29, came to the Nats in a deadline deal with the Oakland A’s for catching prospect David Freitas and became the Nats full-time catcher down the stretch. Reunited with Davey Johnson and Rick Eckstein, who coached the then-youngster with the U.S. Olympic team in 2008, Suzuki hit much better in D.C. (.267/.321/.404 in 164 PAs) than he did the first half in Oakland (.218/.250/.286 in 278 PAs). Suzuki is signed through this season (at $8.5M), with a team option at the same rate for 2014.
Suzuki enjoyed three straight seasons of double-digit home runs in ’09-’11 and hit at that pace once he came to D.C. He’s a competent receiver with a decent arm and once the Nats’ staff gets better at holding runners he’ll be an all-around asset behind the dish. He’s earned the starting nod at catcher for the Nats regardless of Ramos’ status for opening day.
Wilson Ramos: The heir apparent to the starting catcher job since the moment he was acquired from the Minnesota Twins (in exchange for then All-Star reliever Matt Capps), Ramos has had a tumultuous run with the Nats. The 25-year-old Venezuelan native was kidnapped from home and reportedly rescued in a gunfight last off-season, then was off to a good start for the Nats in 2012 (.265/.354/.398 in 96 PAs) when he tore ligaments and the meniscus in his knee in May and missed the rest of the season.
Ramos, 25, is still a legitmate power threat (15 homers in 435 PAs in 2011) and remains very much in the Nats plans as the long-range solution at catcher. But he is still rehabbing from two different knee surgeries last season and while the Nats hope he’s ready to go full-out in spring training, they won’t really know until they get into camp. It would not be surprising to see the Nats take their time with Ramos and not do anything that would jeopardize his long-term status with the team.
Chris Snyder: Recently signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, call Snyder “Ramos insurance”. Snyder’s a nine-year MLB veteran who hasn’t played in the minors (other than rehab assignments ) since 2004. Snyder has good pop at the plate and is good behind it, so if the Nats need to start Ramos on the D.L. Snyder is more than an adequate backup.
Snyder didn’t hit well in Houston last season (.176/.295/.308 in 258 PAs) but has 77 homers in his nine-year career, including seasons of 13, 16, 15 and 10 while the starter in Arizona.
Jhonatan Solano: Solano’s nickname is “Onion”, in tribute to how he hid in an onion truck to cross the Columbian border to go to a MLB tryout in Venezuela, so his dedication to the game can’t be understated. Solano is no longer a young player as he’s entering his Age 27 season. He had a short stint last season with the Nats, hitting .314/.351/.571 in 37 PAs, but an oblique injury limited his MLB debut to 12 games. In his seven-year minor league career, Solano is a .250/.306/.339 hitter, so his performance at the big league level was probably adrenaline-fueled. He’s a solid reciever, but it speaks to the Nats level of confidence with all of the players in this section that they signed Snyder so close to spring training.
Sandy Leon: Leon, 24 on opening day, still maintains prospect status with the Nats because of his age. He has very little power, but he’s switch-hitter who seems to be getting better at plate discipline as he climbs the ladder. Last year, he got 12 big league games in (.267/.389/.333) before spraining his right ankle in a collision with the Padres’ Chase Headley. He hit .322/.396/.460 in 231 PAs across three different levels of the minors last season and the Nats called him up when rosters expended in September.
Carlos Maldonado: Maldonado, 34, has been the backup catcher at Syracuse for the last three seasons, and it looks like that will behis duty again this year. The Venezuelan native has had periodic cups of coffee with the Pirates and Nats in his 15-year minor league career, but has amassed just 74 MLB plate appearances in his career. He’s what’s known as an “organization guy” who can be called up in an emergency, but isn’t a Major League caliber player. Still, there’s a need to have a willing to fill that role in an organization. At 34, he’s nearingthe end of his playing career, but he’s been a solid pro throughout.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Spencer Kieboom: Kieboom, 21, was a fifth round pick in the 2012 draft and played with Auburn of the New York/Penn League. he hit .258/.362/.305 in 155 PAs. The second part of the slash is the important part. Much like Derrik Norris and David Freitas before him, Kieboom seems to have a real good command of the strike zone at the plate at a very young age, which intrigues scouts when that kind of discipline is displayed at such a young age. According to his draft profiles, Kieboom is an excellent reciever with a great arm. Nats assistant GM Roy Clark said of Kieboom after the draft, “We thought Spencer was the best defensive catcher in the country.” Kieboom could start this year at Low-A Hagerstown.