Nats prospect watch: Pineda ready to bounce back from learning year

Failure is a big part of baseball.

A hitter who fails seven times out of 10 is considered above average. Learning how to deal with failure and figuring out how to increase your chances of getting a base hit can go a long way to extending the life of a hitter at the higher levels.

In 2019, this is what catcher Israel Pineda went through in the Nationals organization at 19. He failed more times than not on offense. And that is never an easy task to endure.

At short-season Single-A Auburn in 2018, Pineda slashed .273/.341/.388 with seven doubles, four homers and 24 RBIs in 46 games. But for low Single-A Hagerstown last year, Pineda hit just .217 with 102 strikeouts in 101 games. He smacked seven homers and had 35 RBIs.

"Last season was a growing season for Pineda, defensively and offensively," said Nationals minor league hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich. "I think he thought it was going to be easy. In his mind, I think he thought he was going to go to low A and just tear it up. It was a lot harder than he thought it was going to be. First time ever failing initially in his career, and how he learned how to handle the failure for me is great. Every kid needs to experience it. (It is better) the younger you experience failure. He got to experience it at the age of 18 to 19. That's awesome. It's OK."

Gingrich believes Pineda has the tools to be a quality hitter. The 5-foot-11, 190 lb. product of Maracay, Venezuela, has a power stroke and can make good contact in the strike zone. Pineda is rated the No. 14 prospect in the Nationals top 30. He is the highest-rated catcher in the Nats system.

Nationals-bag-bat-dugout-sidebar.jpg"He's got quick action in his swing. He's got thunder in his bat," Gingrich said. "He just needs to continue to get better. It's not his mechanical swing as much as it is he swings at a lot of pitches out of the zone. He's a very aggressive hitter. Other teams know that. They know they can't just throw him a first-pitch fastball down the middle because he will just whack it. They expand to see if he expands. If he expands, then they go a little bit more. If he chases a little bit more, then they go a little bit further. Today's technology and the ability to see hot and cold zones, they use this technology against our hitters even in the lower levels now. It's good for our hitters to learn that."

Gingrich said if other teams are going to try to use video technology against his hitters, he will turn the tables and show his hitters what other teams are looking to do to get them out.

"We can explain that to them," Gingrich said. "Listen, when they throw the ball in the strike zone, you are great. But when they throw the ball outside the strike zone, you continue to swing and you are not very good at it. So you have two choices: Continue to swing at or take it and wait for something that is better in the zone. This is how we teach them."

It is never fun to fail at your job. Especially when you have one of the most important jobs on the field. Catching each pitcher and directing the defense are major responsibilities. Not even adding the expectation of contributing offensively. That is a lot on the plate for a catcher in pro baseball, especially one that just turned 20 on April 3.

"It was an OK failure year for me because Pineda can learn from that," Gingrich said. "I expect him to go back there and have a year underneath his belt and have a better idea of the things he needs to get better at both sides of the plate - offensively and defensively. It was his first year where he was the guy behind the plate and was catching every day and had to handle the pitching staff. Those are things he had to deal with.

"A lot of times, especially with him, he had to get better defensively, because that is his No. 1 ticket. It's OK, because I know how much he is working at trying to get better defensively. And then I come into town and it is almost like a breath of fresh air. He gets a break from catching, let me focus on hitting a little bit."

Gingrich believes that even though Pineda struggled at the dish last season, he has the tools and potential to be a consistent hitter. With the knowledge under his belt of what pitchers are trying to do to him each at-bat, Pineda can now work on not being tempted by pitches outside of the strike zone and put blinders on.

"He's a kid that wants to hit. We got to make sure that he knows is my first thing is I am behind the plate. I need to take care of pitcher and the hitting comes secondary," Gingrich said. "But he has the potential to be a really good hitter, it's just he is (20) years old. He could have been the three-hole hitter in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year. But for him to go to a full-season team and experience that for me is really good. I'd rather they fail at the lower levels instead of getting all the way to Triple-A and that is the first time they fail. There's a lot of good things ahead for Mr. Pineda."

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