Importance of Nationals’ pitcher-catcher bond begins in Rookie-level ball

The Nationals work very hard on teaching their catchers how to guide each pitcher through their outing, making sure the duo remain on the same page, keeping them focused on the task at hand.

This concentration on the next pitch - an ability to clear out distraction that might have been caused by the last play - is important in helping the pitcher and catcher stay on point. These two players have to work together for the team to be successful.

“Another thing that our organization really stresses is the pitcher-catcher relationship,” said Nationals catching coordinator Michael Barrett, who caught 12 seasons in the major leagues with the Cubs, Expos, Padres and Blue Jays. “We really harp on that, and get these guys to buy into that early on. Sandy Martinez in the Gulf Coast League does a great job getting the young kids at 16 and 17 years old to buy into that aspect of catching.

“You look at some of the guys that are 19 and 20 years old, like Israel Pineda behind the plate last year catching games, you wouldn’t know by the way they handle the pitching staff that they were only 19 or 20 years old.”

Pineda looked the part of a leader of pitchers on the field last season for low Single-A Hagerstown, even though he was just 19 when the season began. Pineda was a workhorse, catching 101 games for the Suns.

“You see some of the guys we get out of the draft who have never called a pitch in their lives - or at least in college they weren’t allowed to call pitches,” Barrett said. “Game management-wise we get them caught up to speed right away. Our pitching coaches, Paul Menhart in years past and Brad Holman now and Spin Williams, do a great job of downloading the catchers on their expectations and what it’s going to take to get each guy through the system. Catchers play a huge role in development of our pitching staff.”

Catcher Jakson Reetz made a nice jump from 2018 to 2019, bumping his numbers in every category.

With the high Single-A Potomac Nationals in 2018, Reetz slashed .224/.342/.323 with eight doubles, five homers and 27 RBIs over 69 games. Last season, Reetz got on a roll. He earned a Carolina League mid-season All-Star citation, slashing .253/.370/.441 over 96 games, with 18 doubles, two triples, 13 homers and 55 RBIs.

Barrett noticed how Reetz really put it all together from July until the end of the season to grab the undivided attention of coaches.

“Jakson is a tremendous leader,” Barrett said. “What he did (in the) second half was amazing. He was amazing. I’m not just saying that. He did some things that we haven’t seen a lot of our catchers do, offensively and defensively. Something clicked and he started to figure somethings out. His confidence grew. Once he started to experience that success and gain that feel, he really took off, went to the next level.”

Reetz, 24, earned the coveted seventh annual Bob Boone Award, demonstrating consistently the “professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination and work ethic required to play the game the ‘Washington Nationals Way.’ ” Reetz is ready to make that next step to Double-A Harrisburg.

Tres-Barrera-sidebar.jpgCatcher Tres Barrera, 25, made the biggest jump for Nats catchers last year, getting all the way to the big leagues with his first call-up Sept. 8 from Harrisburg. He will begin the season at Triple-A Fresno. He has been a mid-season All-Star twice: in 2016 with Potomac and 2019 with Harrisburg.

“Tres is very disciplined,” Barrett said. “That’s the thing that stands out about him. He is self-motivated and he is an overachiever. That’s a good combination. He’s one of the few guys I have that are out there doing the work themselves. He doesn’t need to be spoon-fed. He is very ambitious. He is very hungry. He just goes to work and he is a sponge. He sees something, he is going to work on it, he’s going to try it.

“I would say the last two years defensively, some of the improvements that he’s made has been the most growth we have seen out of a catcher defensively in that short amount of time.”

A lot was said last season of Barrera’s ability to work with the young pitchers in the organization like Wil Crowe and Ben Braymer. Barrett said having so many coaches in the organization who were catchers in their playing days helped them teach prospects like Barrera what it would be like on the field.

“Our catchers are really good at managing games because of the experience they are surrounded by and how they are able to pull guys through,” Barrett said. “There are so many styles to managing games as a catcher. Short-season Single-A Auburn manager Patrick Anderson is another one of our managers who caught during their playing days, and he has a way to get through to these guys on different aspects of game management. Our catchers do a great job of this overall.”

That is why a player like Barrera can hit the ground running when he makes a big jump from Double-A to the Nationals. He has been taught how to work with each pitcher - whether that pitcher is Jacob Condra-Bogan or Max Scherzer. A harmonious pitcher-catcher relationship is the objective from the first day of Rookie-level ball all the way to Triple-A and eventually to the Nationals.

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