Washington Nationals' Wilson Ramos And Jesus Flores Have Something To Prove.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez isn't going to just hand the starting catcher job over to the next generation of Nats' backstops. Wilson Ramos, Jesus Flores and Derek Norris have something to prove. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The season before the Washington Nationals selected Jesus Flores with the 6th pick of the '06 Rule 5 Draft, "...under the recommendation of manager Manny Acta, Minor League manager John Stearns and Davey Johnson," as MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported in a December '06 article entitled, "Nats tab three in Rule 5 draft", the then-22-year-old catching prospect had hit 32 doubles and 21 HR's with a .266/.335/.487 line in 120 games with the Class-A St. Lucie Mets in spite of the fact that he had an injured thumb...Flores, then 22, played the entire '07 season on the Nationals' major league roster as Rule 5 picks must, and at 23, the Venezuelan catcher wrested the starting job from other veteran backstops in 2008, but his season ended in early September when an ankle sprain suffered on a collision at the plate with the Phillies' Chase Utley brought his sophomore season in D.C. to a close.

Flores, 24, was 29 games into the '09 campaign with a .311/.382/.522 line, three doubles and four HR's in 103 plate appearances when a foul ball caught him flush on his right shoulder causing what was diagnosed several days later as a stress fracture. Flores returned for several AB's at the end of 2009, but discomfort in his shoulder was revealed to be a torn labrum, and while rehabbing his shoulder he had athroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow. Now 26, Flores is finally healthy this Spring, having played 25 games for the Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he put up a .322/.365/.460 slash line with six doubles, two HR's and 16 RBI's in 87 AB's. 

Flores' fellow Nats' catcher Wilson Ramos played 47 games for the VWL's Tigres de Aragua, with a .322/.390/.567 line, 17 doubles, nine HR's and 36 RBI's in 180 at bats. Ramos appeared at no.42 on ESPN.com's Keith Law's Top 100 Prospects list in January 2010, eleven spots behind Nats' prospect Derek Norris (no.31), with Mr. Law noting that the then-22-year-old catcher, "has had trouble staying healthy," having suffered a broken finger and "partially torn hamstring" in 2009 which limited the Twins' prospect to 59 games (54 games at Double-A + rehab at Rk) that season in which he had a .317/.341/.454 line with 16 doubles and four HR's. 

Ramos struggled offensively at Triple-A in 2010, posting a .241/.280/.345 slash line in 71 games at Triple-A Rochester before the deal to Washington. Though Twins' GM Bill Smith described the catcher as having, "...severe power, you know, big-time raw power," with,"a strong arm," and, "all the skills you look for in a young catcher," after the trade, as ESPN.com's Buster Olney commented after the deal, his stock had fallen considerably because of his issues at the plate. Ramos had a .316/.341/.494 line at Triple-A Syracuse in the Nats' system and he hit .269 with 4 doubles and a HR in 15 games with Washington before his strong winter ball showing, but he dropped considerably to no. 95 overall on the 2011 edition of ESPN.com's Keith Law's Top 100 Prospect list with Mr. Law noting that, "The real concern with Ramos is health," and warning that Ramos, "has to maintain his conditioning so he doesn't outgrow the position horizontally."

MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr spoke to Derek Norris, the top catching prospect in the Nats' system, for an article yesterday entitled, "Norris positioned well for spring training invite", in which Norris, 21, discussed his struggles last year recovering from hamate surgery on his wrist and two fastballs to his head. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo had Norris ranked as the 10th best catching prospect in baseball on his recent, "Prospect Watch: Baseball's Top 10 catchers", in which he predicted that, "With a strong '11, he could make things interesting with Ramos in Washington in '12."

As much as some are ready to push Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez out the door so he can continue his quest for 3,000 hits elsewhere after a .266/.294/.347 2010 season, until Norris is ready to make the jump to the majors and Flores and Ramos are able to prove they can stay healthy and play at the major league level on an everyday basis, maybe it's a good thing that the veteran catcher who's played 108 games+ in all but three seasons since making his MLB debut with 88 games in 1991 is still around.

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