The Nationals’ acquisition Thursday evening of Alex Avila was no surprise. Which is to say, we’d known for months they were going to need to acquire a catcher from outside the organization to replace Kurt Suzuki and share the job with Yan Gomes.
Whether it was Avila or one of the other available free agents, the Nats had to get themselves another catcher this winter, one way or the other.
Why? Because they didn’t feel like they had a viable in-house candidate for that job. And truth be told, they haven’t had one in a long time. Or arguably ever.
This topic hasn’t received a lot of attention over the years, but it’s certainly worth discussing: The Nationals have done a terrible job developing their own catchers. And as you look back through their history, that opinion is only bolstered.
Quick: Name the catcher who was either drafted or signed internationally by the organization who has played the most big league games for Washington.
Having some trouble? The answer is Pedro Severino, who played a total of 105 games from 2015-18, hitting .187 with four homers, 22 RBIs and a .566 OPS.
Next on the list? Spencer Kieboom, who appeared in 53 games from 2016-18 and hit .232 with two homers, 13 RBIs and a .646 OPS.
“Wait, what about Wilson Ramos?” some of you are thinking right now. “Wasn’t he homegrown?”
No, he was acquired from the Twins in a 2010 trade for reliever Matt Capps.
In fact, the nine catchers who have played the most for the Nationals since 2005 all came from another organization, with *one caveat noted below:
1. Wilson Ramos, 578 games (traded from Twins)
2. Brian Schneider, 369 games (*drafted by Expos)
3. Jesús Flores, 311 games (Rule 5 draft from Mets)
4. Kurt Suzuki, 240 games (traded from A’s, later signed as free agent)
5. Jose Lobaton, 200 games (traded from Rays)
6t. Matt Wieters, 199 games (free agent)
6t. Wil Nieves, 199 games (free agent)
8. Iván Rodríguez, 155 games (free agent)
9. Yan Gomes, 127 games (traded from Indians)
And this isn’t a case where the Nationals traded away or lost some high-quality catchers they originally drafted or signed internationally. Their best homegrown catcher is probably Derek Norris, a fourth-round pick in 2007 who was sent to Oakland in the 2011 Gio González trade and made the All-Star team in 2014, but finished with very modest numbers over a six-year career with the A’s, Padres and Rays.
In fact, the Nationals have never used a first- or second-round pick on a catcher. Never. They’ve used a third-round pick on a catcher only once: Jakson Reetz, drafted in 2014 and still in the organization. In addition to Norris in 2007, they used last year’s fourth-round pick on Brady Lindsly. And they’ve twice drafted a catcher in the fifth round: Adrián Nieto (2008) and Kieboom (2012).
On the international front, the Nationals most notably signed Severino (2010) and Raudy Read (2011) out of the Dominican Republic and Israel Pineda (2016) out of Venezuela. Pineda, projected to play a high Single-A this season, is currently the organization’s 15th-ranked prospect.
Suffice it to say, there isn’t a frontline catching prospect knocking on the door anytime soon. Nor has there been in a long time.
It’s an area the Nationals are going to have to address one of these days. If not, they’ll find themselves in an endless cycle signing veteran catchers off the free agent market every couple of years to fill the position.