"You don't pull the wool over the Minnesota Twins' eyes. Billy Smith is as sharp a baseball guy and [VP of Player Personnel Mike] Radcliffe over there, they're as sharp a baseball organization as there is and I think it was a trade that worked well for both teams," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said in an interview on MLB Network Radio this winter when asked about the deal with the Twins that brought then-22-year-old catcher Wilson Ramos to the Washington Nationals at the 2010 Trade Deadline in return for reliever Matt Capps.
"They had signed [Joe] Mauer to a long-term deal, they had a good backup guy in [Drew] Butera, and Ramos was kind of a luxury for them to have around," Rizzo said, "So they parlayed Ramos into a closer that got them the division title and into the playoffs and a guy that will probably help them do the same this year and we got ourselves a young guy that we believe is going to be a front of the line, catch and throw guy with power and offensive capabilities."
"I was working hard there," Wilson Ramos said when I asked him if he was frustrated in Minnesota or felt blocked behind the 27-year-old Mauer, who'd signed an 8-year/$184M dollar deal in 2011 that runs through 2018, "I was waiting for my opportunity. But, you know Mauer is a very, very good player and when he signed a big contract, I thought, 'I need to play for another team, because it's hard to play everyday here,' so when this team traded for me, I was excited, I'm excited right now to play this season."
"I think that [Ramos'] upside is tremendous," the Nats' GM told the MLB Network Radio hosts, "he handles a pitching staff tremendously, he's wise beyond his years and he's a guy that the pitchers love to throw to...he gives a great target, he catches and throws and blocks and this guy is extremely strong, and he's going to be a gifted offensive guy."
"He's young but he's played a lot of baseball," Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman said in a pregame press conference before Ramos went 3 for 4 with three singles in his 2011 debut against Atlanta on Saturday. "He signed at a young age, he plays Winter ball every year, he's had the full minor league seasons for years. And most of the good ones, you know Pudge [Rodriguez] broke in at 19, I think, most of the players who make major contributions to the core of your team, if you go around baseball, not all, of course, but most of them broke in by 22 years old, 23 years old, 24, if you're breaking in at 25, 26, most guys are utility players or that type of thing, but we think [Ramos] is going to be a core player on the team for years to come and he's breaking in about when guys who end up being good players break in."
"I'm very lucky to work with [Mauer and Pudge]," Ramos said when I asked about the opportunity he's had to learn the game from two highly-regarded backstops. "I learned a lot with Joe [Mauer]. Now working with Pudge [I've learned] about my defense, calling the game, so I'm very, very excited to work with him, when I was young, my favorite player was Pudge, so working right now with him, I'm very excited about that."
On Saturday, in the pregame press conference before Ramos' first game of 2011, Jim Riggleman announced that the Nationals would alternate starts between Rodriguez and Ramos early this season, and explained that he'd spoken to the veteran backstop about the team's decision and had what he described as "a great conversation" with the 20-year MLB veteran, who, in Riggleman's words, "completely understands that we have to develop [Wilson] Ramos' game."
CSN Washington writer Mark Zuckerman quoted Pudge Rodriguez yesterday in an article entitled, "Rodriguez will share Nats' catching duties", explaining that he understood the team's decision to split the starts evenly between himself and Ramos:
"He's the future of our ballclub," Rodriguez said. "I'm here to work with him. I don't have no problem with that. ... The most important thing for me is to help the ballclub."
"No, we literally kind of have two no.1's," Riggleman said, "We're going to move towards [Ramos being no.1], but we don't want to count our chickens too early here. We still have to play Ramos, we just can't assume that he's going to go out there and overwhelm the league or something. It's kind of like what we get with the thoughts on, when you talk about Bryce Harper, it kind of gets like, well let's just send him to Cooperstown, never mind playing, so we've got to let [Ramos] play."
Ramos thinks he's ready, though he acknowledges that he still has a lot to learn from the future Hall of Fame backstop he idolized growing up. "I want to play every day, play with Pudge who's got 20 years in the big leagues, so I have to learn from him." When he watched Pudge play growing up Ramos said he was always impressed with Pudge's game, "His defense, how he throws to the bases, how he hits, he hits pretty good, he calls a pretty good game, he blocks the balls pretty good, I want to work like him and stay a lot of years in the big leagues."
Ramos, who was listed as the fifth-best prospect in the Nats' system by Baseball America this winter and ranked the 95th best prospect in baseball by ESPN.com's Keith Law says he'll continue to try to improve his game, "The first tool for a catcher is behind the plate. I'm working right now on my defense, calling the game and everything behind the plate, and I'm not working too much with my bat because I know I can hit. I need to call a pretty good game and help my pitching staff win the game."
Ramos, however, doesn't think Rodriguez is done quite yet, though many are writing the veteran backstop off as he's struggling at the plate again at the start of the 2011 season. "[Pudge] wants to play more years in the big leagues, he told me already, but you know, I'm ready to play every day, so I was waiting for my chance. If this team gives me a chance to play every day, I will play every day, I will play hard. Pudge is a great player, but [the team] has to make a decision who plays every day. It's not my decision. It's not his decision. It's the front office's decision. I'll play hard and see what happens."
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"[Ramos is] a young guy that is going to break in and we don't really want to break him in catching minimal games," Riggleman said, "So there's going to be a lot of days that Ramos is out there and Pudge is completely on board with that, Pudge wants to be a National, he wants to do whatever it takes. - "Washington Nationals: Pudge Rodriguez And Wilson Ramos, Backstop Transition." - Patrick Reddington, Federal Baseball.