Young catchers at Nats’ lower levels growing up fast

Current short-season Single-A Auburn manager Patrick Anderson says the Nationals need a lot of catchers at their lower levels so they can build stamina at that spot in the lineup. Catching is a position that can administer wear and tear on bodies over the course of a season, especially for teenagers just getting their first taste of playing pro ball.

“That position beats them up,” Anderson said. “They are not used to 140 games at the low Single-A level. Those guys can get hurt sometimes. They need a break.”

Nats-Park-exhibition-sidebar.jpgOne catcher that Anderson liked in his time last season was 20-year-old Venezuelan backstop Israel Pineda, who caught 101 games for Hagerstown after playing in only 46 games in 2018.

“Israel Pineda is a really good player, a very good player in his first full season,” Anderson said. “Kid had to deal with cold weather, travel, playing, taking care of his body, routine. It was tough for an 18-year-old kid. As a catcher, he had to deal with a lot of (stuff). I was really impressed he went through the whole season and was grinding through it. He got hit in the hand four times. I thought it was broken twice.

“My point is he intrigues me, he’s got some bat potential. He needs to get out there and play some more, get some at-bats and log some innings, because he did a good job but his numbers really didn’t show. I think this year was going to be his year to get back on track.

Nic Perkins, 24, played 63 games last season for Anderson at Hagerstown.

“He intrigues me, big kid, low-round draft pick,” Anderson said. “He’s got a really good arm. Pitchers love throwing to him. He’s got some juice coming off that bat. He was a backup type of guy. He’s going to be that guy to keep moving up that way. He’s intriguing because of his size, put his fingers down there and did such a good job of receiving. He’s got a pretty good tool set for being the backup type of guy.”

Perkins and 21-year-old Mason Doolittle are both 6-foot-4. Guys like Joe Mauer, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Matt Wieters are all 6-foot-5. What are the advantages of having a catcher that big behind the plate? What are the challenges?

“Mark Parent with the Orioles and Padres comes to mind. He was huge,” Anderson said. “You don’t see too many of them that are that big. I didn’t see Doolittle except for in spring training a little bit when I went down there before. He’s intriguing. He’s got a really good arm. He reminds me of Perkins. Both of them are kind of the same type of skill sets.”

Another backup that should get a good amount of playing time when the next season arrives is Alex Dunlap. High Single-A Fredericksburg manager Tripp Keister got eyes on Dunlap, 25, at Potomac last season, when Dunlap was the primary backup to Jakson Reetz.

“Alex was probably going to be the guy to come back (this season) and really did a much better job with his game-calling and working with the staff as the season progressed,” Keister said. “He was really looking to having much more playing time this year.

“Offensively, he hit some homers for us, showed some power. He showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He is really good behind the plate, improving every day with his game-calling, working with the staff. Looking forward to working with him and having him all season.”

Tyler Cropley also played catcher for Hagerstown, but was more of a utility guy. He jumped into the outfield for the Suns after experience in center field for Iowa.

Anderson also had high praise for 19-year-old Geraldi Diaz out of the Dominican. Diaz caught in 24 games for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Nationals last season.

“Geraldi Diaz? He really intrigues me,” Anderson said. “Pitchers love throwing to him. He didn’t get up to me but I saw him a lot in spring training. This kid, man, there is something in there. He could swing it. His receiving skills are really, really good. He can throw it. He’s someone that you got to keep your head out for.”

Anderson has noticed a trend within the organization recently that young catchers seem to arrive at Single-A mature and skilled enough to hit the ground running instead of having to be brought up to speed.

“They do a really good job down in the Dominican to prepare them and then when they get here, the coolest thing to see them intermingle with some of these older guys,” Anderson said. “Their makeup is really good and they watch the other minor league and big leaguers. They start falling in line.

“The maturity level elevated a lot more than I’ve seen in the last five, six years with our organization. I’m really impressed. Johnny DiPuglia (assistant general manager for international operations) does an unbelievable job getting these Latin kids, not just skill-wise, but mentality-wise. It makes things a lot easier for us.”

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