VIERA, Fla. - The Jose Lobaton trade is finally official.
In addition to the Nationals acquiring Lobaton from the Rays to presumably serve as their backup catcher, they also receive two 22-year-old minor leaguers - left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson. Right-hander Nathan Karns is the only player going from the Nats to Tampa Bay.
As I mentioned earlier, Lobaton hit .249/.320/.394 in a career-high 100 games last season with 15 doubles, seven home runs and 32 RBIs. The switch-hitter might be best known for hitting a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series against Red Sox closer Koji Uehara last season.
Rivero won a career-high nine games and posted a 3.40 ERA in 25 games (23 starts) last season for high Single-A Charlotte. The lefty is 29-25 with a 3.45 ERA in 96 games, including 65 starts, in five seasons since signing with the Rays in 2008 as a non-drafted free agent out of Venezuela.
Vettleson was a first-round pick of the Rays in 2010 out of Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale, Wash. In 314 professional games in the Rays system, Vettleson has batted .276 with 66 doubles, 15 triples 26 home runs, 171 RBIs and 45 stolen bases.
Last season, he hit .274/.331/.388 with four homers and 62 RBIs at Charlotte, primarily playing right field.
Rivero and Vettleson ranked No. 17 and No. 20, respectively, on Baseball America’s ranking of Rays prospects entering this season.
The Nationals also today placed right-hander Erik Davis on the 60-day disabled list with a right elbow sprain.
Davis, 27, made his debut with the Nationals last season and went 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 big league games.
Rivero was on the Rays’ 40-man roster, so the Nats needed to clear a spot to acquire the lefty. Placing Davis on the 60-day DL now makes room for Rivero.
Update: The Nats might have considered signing one of the top backup catchers on the free agent market this offseason, but after assessing their options, they decided they were better off making a deal for Lobaton, Rivero and Vettleson, even if it meant they had to part ways with Karns.
“The package we got was that much better (than the free agent options),” Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said.
In Lobaton, the Nats feel they’re getting a solid hitter, and a catcher experienced at framing pitches and handling a quality big league pitching staff. The fact that Lobaton is under team control through the 2017 season sure doesn’t hurt, either.
“He fit the criteria we’re looking for,” Rizzo said. “Switch-hitting is certainly a bonus. He had a terrific season from the left side of the plate and was a guy that we control at a reasonable cost, and his pitch framing is key. He blocks balls well, he frames pitches well. He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s a good offensive catcher and a guy who’s caught a championship-caliber staff and caught 100 games last year. So he fit a lot of the criteria that we were looking for and was a guy that passed the makeup test and the character test. It was just a good fit for us.”
Lobaton’s caught stealing numbers, which I mentioned earlier, are not too impressive. He threw out just 14 percent of runners attempting to steal last season, compared to the league average, which is 26 percent. But while Rizzo said that aspect is part of the evaluation process, the Nats feel comfortable with what Lobaton brings to the table defensively.
“When we look at the defensive metrics, he certainly has to improve with his caught stealing percentage,” Rizzo said. “But caught stealing percentage is often a result of a lot of different things. So we feel that he throws well enough that he should be better than 16 percent caught stealing percentage (in his career). But when you factor in the way he receives the ball, the way he blocks pitches, the way he handles a staff and his game-calling skills, we feel that he’s an above average defensive catcher and with some offensive upside.”
Rizzo said that the Nats first started talking with the Rays about a deal for Lobaton back at the Winter Meetings. They were able to build up the package they were receiving to include Rivero and Vettleson, two prospects Rizzo seems very high on.
“Felipe Rivero, we’ve got very, very strong reports on him,” Rizzo said. “He’s pitched at 21 years old in the Florida State League, throws 95, 96 (mph), he can spin the breaking ball and he’s got a huge upside. And Vettleson is, again, a (22)-year-old outfielder with a cannon for an arm, put up very good numbers in a tough, accelerated, high-A level at 21 years old. So we feel that you couple that with the need, the years of control and the talent level of Lobaton and we feel really good about the trade.”
On Davis, Rizzo said that the right-hander felt some discomfort in his throwing elbow this offseason, and the soreness was still present after he threw a bullpen session here in Viera. Surgery on Davis’ elbow is not being discussed at this time, Rizzo said.
“We felt that the prudent thing to do was just to be to put him on the 60-day DL, allow him to take his time because it’s probably going to be six to eight weeks before he gets rolling anyway,” Rizzo said. “So it was kind of the prudent move to make.”
Finally, Rizzo said he was “really proud of Karns,” who worked his way up through the Nats system, fought through injury and became a solid prospect.
“This was a 12th-round pick that had pretty major shoulder surgery and grinded through and battled back,” Rizzo said. “A really good, young, upside pitcher that pitched in the big leagues for us. He’s got a good mental makeup. He’s a pitcher that’s going to help Tampa Bay and was a guy that in our plans.
“We felt that (we’re) getting back a need for us this season, plus getting back what we feel was a huge-upside left-handed starter and an outfielder that replenishes our minor league prospects.”