Nationals catcher Sandy Leon was all-smiles as he got dressed Monday in front of his locker, located between fellow Venezuelan receivers Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores.
Leon got the call to the big leagues from Double-A Harrisburg after an unfortunate right knee injury to Ramos, who may miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Leon was not selected because he was closer geographically to where the Nationals were playing the Reds in Cincinnati, Ohio, when the injury to Ramos occurred. Harrisburg was playing a series in Akron, Ohio, but that wasn’t the driving influence on why the Nationals put him on the big league roster, as had been previously reported. According to a source within the organization, Leon was the selection because of his play on the field.
The Nationals are stocked with a talented receiving core in the system, but were impressed with Leon’s hitting, .319 on the season, and his ability to play run-erasing defense and to block the plate.
Having the opportunity to be in big league spring training camp helped Leon’s cause, the source said, as all the Nationals staff was able to see firsthand how good Leon was as an up-and-coming catching prospect within the organization.
But familiarity with Ramos and Flores is a big boost for Leon as he prepares to make his major league debut. Flores said he will make sure to emphasize to Leon to just do his job and that his talent will take it from there.
“First thing is not to worry about everybody else around the field, just the game,” Flores said. “Of course Wilson (Ramos) already talked to him. I’m going to give him some advice about communication with the pitcher. Just help him out, try to relax and execute the gameplan.”
When Leon makes his debut, he will be the first homegrown catcher produced by the Nationals. Former Nationals Brian Schneider and Luke Montz signed professional contracts with the then-Montreal Expos. Montz and Schneider are the only previous homegrown receivers to play for the Nationals since their arrival in D.C.
Leon has hit well against Double-A pitchers, with 10 doubles, one homer and 12 RBIs in his first 27 games this season. He admitted the hitting part does not concern him as much as calling the game well for starter Ross Detwiler. Leon was asked if calling the game or hitting would be tougher for him tonight.
“I think calling the game,” Leon said. “That is my challenge. My strong point is my catching and my defense.”
Leon said he works six times a week on his defense and throwing to second base. Nationals player development and coaching staff has noticed the work ethic employed by Leon and has been impressed with how important game preparation has been to the young star. Those factors play a part in the decision of when a prospect is called to the bigs.
Manager Davey Johnson has confidence in the 23-year old switch-hitter and said he will also catch Detwiler on his next scheduled start Sunday versus the Orioles. He also wanted to give Flores a rest.
“It would be unfair for (Flores) to go tomorrow, and I have got Strasburg going tomorrow,” Johnson said. “I want (Flores) to catch our No. 1. So, I will let (Detwiler) welcome Sandy to the big leagues tonight.”