When building a solid major league system, a franchise can never have enough catching depth. The Nationals have demonstrated this on their 40-man roster, with four backstops. Jesus Flores, Derek Norris, Wilson Ramos and Jhonatan Solano represent the top four catchers protected on the Nationals’ 40-man.
It has been an emotional offseason for incumbent Ramos, who had to endure a horrible kidnapping. Despite that deeply traumatic event, Ramos is expected to be the starter heading into spring training 2012.
Monday is a big day for Flores with the Nationals because he is arbitration-eligible and tonight is the non-tender deadline. You would expect the Nationals to tender a contract, but we will have to wait and see.
Bench coach Randy Knorr said the depth the Nationals have put together at catcher gives them options heading into spring training.
“Our catching is probably right up there with our pitching,” Knorr said. “I think our pitching down in the minor leagues is really good. Flores is hitting .400 and leading the league in RBIs down in Venezuela. I think he is an option that we have. I know a lot people would like to trade for Jesus (Flores), but that is a decision that we have to make.”
Flores hit .209 in 30 games last season for the Nationals, but carries a steady .253 average in his career, with 17 homers and 101 RBIs.
Knorr also has a ton of confidence in Solano, who he managed with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in 2011.
“We are spoiled with Solano,” Knorr said. “Solano doesn’t need to go and play every day anymore. He is ready. He could catch and throw in the big leagues right now. (Solano) does not strike out a lot and he puts the ball in play.”
“So having both of them, Norris and Solano, both of them will get to play at Triple-A. Solano will get to play enough. He will be ready in case somebody gets hurt.
“I am glad we put (Solano) on the 40-man. I think it benefits us. It reminds me of Carlos Ruiz of Philadelphia, if given the opportunity, (Solano could play).”
Nationals director of player development Doug Harris said Norris made big strides at the plate with his approach in the Arizona Fall League this season, hitting .276 in 21 games with two homers, four stolen bases, 12 walks and 11 RBIs.
“I felt like he put himself in a better position mechanically to be more consistent offensively,” Harris said. “He has much better balance with his lower half that allows him to back up contact, allows the ball to travel deeper in the hitting zone. Derek has a short, quick swing. When he is in a position to back up that contact, he has a chance to be a really good hitter.”
A lot could change could occur in the next few weeks, but it certainly looks promising for the Nationals with a pair of major league catchers and two more that appear ready to play at the top level.
On the minor league side, the Nationals drafted former University of Virginia catcher Beau Seabury from the Colorado Rockies in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.
Sam Farber, play-by-play for the Inland Empire 66ers, who also called Colorado Springs SkySox games in the Rockies’ system, said Seabury has been a solid defensive catcher and will provide depth for the Nationals.
“Seabury has been in the Cal League the last two years as the backup for Modesto,” Farber said. “I know the Rockies have had a few catchers in the system they were high on so that may have blocked (Seabury).”
Seabury hit .274 with eight doubles, two homers and 20 RBIs in 31 games last season for Modesto.