New Triple-A Syracuse manager remembers Lobaton excelling in Tampa system

Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs manager Billy Gardner was in the Tampa Bay Rays organization for several years and had a chance to skipper newly acquired backup catcher Jose Lobaton while with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits.

"I always liked the way he handed the pitching staff," Gardner said. "That was the one thing that stood out. He was a good communicator. He took a lot of pride in running the pitching staff and calling the game."

Gardner worked with Lobaton in 2009, 2010 and parts of 2012 while the catcher was rehabbing an injury. Gardner said he got a good look at the Venezuelan backstop for three dozen or so games.

"He is a switch-hitting catcher with size, always received the ball well," Gardner said. "He presented to the pitcher well, always gave a good target. He did a good job, I thought, following the plan, even at the major league level.

"They got a pretty good pitching staff up there (in Tampa Bay). He would follow the game plan, and they liked that about him, but he could flip it if he had to, having to go with something different and adjust on the fly.

Lobaton did not have jump-off-the-page defensive stats last season, but Gardner believes it is not the catcher's fault when runners get a good jump on a pitcher's slow delivery to the plate.

"For me, a lot of times, they would steal off the pitcher," Gardner said. "I always felt like his arm was good. I didn't think it was a liability by any means. He was pretty accurate when I saw him. What happened up there with the percentages and all I don't know, but a lot of times they were stealing off the pitcher.

Gardner also believes that Lobaton's transition will be made easier because he gets to work with fellow countryman Wilson Ramos with the Nationals.

"Just reading the comments, it appears Lobaton is really excited to get to work with Ramos," Gardner said. "I think it is a pretty good setup they got."

Gardner is getting comfortable in his new job with the Nationals and has been impressed with what he has seen on the field with the young prospects as they get their initial workouts in the books. He also has appreciated how his fellow coaches and staff have made him feel right at home.

"What I have seen here is a lot of athletic, tools-type guys so that tells me they are doing a pretty good job of scouting and drafting players," Garner said.

"The one thing that has blown me away here is there is a lot of quality people, not just baseball people, a lot of quality people and they are making the transition for me really smooth."

Syracuse opens Thursday, April 3 at home against Scranton-Wilkes Barre.

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