The Nationals have made it a mandate: Build from pitching and catching. Their organization is filled with outstanding hurlers and backstops that have played well for the Nationals or have brought fruit in trades over the years.
Derek Norris, who was traded in a blockbuster 2011 deal for left-hander Gio Gonzalez, has become a starter for the Oakland A’s, helping to guide them to a playoff appearance last season. (Ironically, A.J. Cole was part of that deal to Oakland, has since been traded back to D.C. and is now on the Nationals’ 40-man roster).
Norris went from 104 games with Double-A Harrisburg in 2011 to eventually 60 games with the Athletics in 2012, hitting seven homers and 34 RBIs. He crushed nine homers with 30 RBIs in 2013, and cranked out 10 homers with 55 RBIs this season, becoming well-known for hitting three-run shots. He also managed to hit .270 in 127 games for Oakland in 2014.
Catchers Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom both participated in the Arizona Fall League on the same team, displaying their ability to play great defense, command the game and throw out runners, as well as make good contact and hold their own at the plate.
The Nationals took the next step in fortifying their catching spot by selecting catcher Jakson Reetz (Twitter: @jakson_1) in the third round of the 2014 draft. Reetz is the No. 7 Nationals prospect according to Baseball Prospectus.
No. 7: catcher Jakson Reetz
Reetz, who turns 19 on Jan. 3, played well for the rookie-level Gulf Coast Nationals this season, batting .274 in 43 games, with six doubles, one triple, one homer, 20 runs and 15 RBIs. He also stole six bases.
Reetz grew up in a village in Nebraska called Firth (pop. 579), which is southeast of the state capital of Lincoln. His high school was a part of the Norris School District, and housed all grades from pre-school to 12th grade.
Many scouts felt Reetz might not sign, so some teams shied away from the talented 6-foot-1, 195-lb. prospect.
Chris Mellen, who is co-director of the prospect team at Baseball Prospectus, said Reetz is a good find for the Nationals.
“There was very good feedback, strong feedback and support for him by my partner here, Nick Faleris, who covers amateur scouting,” Mellen said. “In talking with my amateur scouting contacts across the board, (they are) high on him. Very high.
“Part of the reason why they think maybe he slid into the third round might have been some confusion on his signability. I know that going into the draft, he was potentially more of a second-round type. He kind of fell into their lap there in the third round.”
But Mellen said there is little debate about Reetz’s skill set and talent level.
“The big thing with him is he is young and raw, strong,” Mellen said. “He’s got pretty good power that he’ll can be able to tap into as he learns to adjust his swing a little bit, get more lift out of it. It is more of a line drive stroke right now, which does bode well on his career and be able to make good contact and sort of learn how to muscle up in spots. But we see him potentially as in the 18-22 home run range when all is said and done.”
The Nationals always work to build a defensive base for their catchers, like they have with Severino and Kieboom, teaching them the fundamentals from behind the plate, how to work with the pitchers and how to call a game. Mellen expects that same game plan with Reetz.
“The defense is raw, like most catchers coming in at 18 or 19 years old when they’re drafted,” Mellen said. “It is not an advanced skill set, but it definitely shows the making of a skill set that can be polished. It can be advanced. He’s fluid, he’s got good footwork. He’s going to learn. It might be ugly in the beginning and growing pains, but definitely a player that profiles at the position, but he’s also athletic enough that he may be able to move off to another position, as well.”
Usually, defense is first with a talented prospect, but that Reetz was able to hit from the start with the GCL Nats is another positive sign that his offensive and defensive skills have a chance to parallel their growth as he advances to his next stop in the system.