Washington Nationals' Catcher Wilson Ramos Will Have To Prove Himself Again

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson said Kurt Suzuki will likely be the Nats' no.1 catcher in 2013, but Wilson Ramos is determined to be 100% for Spring Training and he'll likely put up a fight.

The last update on Washington Nationals' catcher Wilson Ramos came from the 25-year-old catcher's PR rep Marfa Mata (@MarfaMata), who wrote on Twitter back on 11/27 that the backstop had seen his doctor and received a positive report on his surgically repaired right knee. "Dr Steadman is optimistic that Wilson will be ready for spring training," the report said, "Ramos is working hard on his rehab, he's eager to play soon." The Nats' backstop had two surgical procedures to repair a torn ACL and meniscus he suffered on a play behind the plate back on May 12th in Cincinnati.

Ramos had a .265/.354/.398 line with two doubles and three home runs in 25 games and 96 PAs before the injury. The former top Twins' prospect catching prospect acquired from Minnesota in a July 2010 trade for RHP Matt Capps, had firmly established himself as the Nationals' no.1 catcher with a .267/.334/.445, 22 double, 15 HR, +3.3 fWAR 2011 campaign which saw him play 113 games and make 435 PAs in his first full pro season. With Ramos hurt, however, and the succession of catchers who helped Jesus Flores behind the plate (including Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Carlos Maldonado) failing to produce what the team thought they needed, the Nationals traded for A's catcher Kurt Suzuki after the non-waiver deadline last summer.

The 28-year-old Suzuki (who turned 29 in early October) came from Oakland with a .218/.250/.286 line, 15 doubles and a home run in 75 games and 278 PAs, but turned things around late as the Nationals made a successful run at the NL East title, putting up a .301/.355/.482 line over the last month-plus of the season with three of the 20 doubles and four of the six home runs he hit last year coming over his final 26 games and 93 PAs of 2012. After a .237/.301/.385, 26 double, 14 HR, +2.2 fWAR 2011 season, Suzuki finished his sixth pro season with a .235/.276/.328 line at +0.8 fWAR.

Defensively, Suzuki had a .994 fld% last season, with five errors (all throwing errors) and a 30% CS% on the year between Oakland and Washington. In his last full season in 2011, Ramos had a .993 fld%, with five errors (all throwing errors) and a 32% CS%.

While Davey Johnson said he was impressed with the catching depth in the Nationals' organization last year, telling ESPN980's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro in an interview earlier this winter, "... we lost 2-3 catchers, it seemed like, and the system kept on providing quality replacements and kept us right in there," the 69-year-old Nats' skipper told reporters this week at the Winter Meetings that if Ramos is healthy, he and Suzuki will obviously be the team's catchers in 2013. Suzuki, however, will be the no.1 backstop to start the season according to the manager.

D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told CSNWashington.com's Mark Zuckerman last August when the Nats acquired Suzuki that the catcher, "wasn't a rental," but a catcher who was, "... going to be here for more than this season. He's a guy who can really take that rotation together and get it going better than it already has.'" Suzuki, who signed a 4-year/$16.25M dollar extension with Oakland in 2010, will earn $6.75M in 2013 and there's an $8.5M club option for 2014 (or a $650,000 buyout). Ramos earned $491,250 in 2012.

The Nationals have two affordable, relatively young catchers on the roster. The Nats are comfortable enough with their catching situation that they non-tendered Jesus Flores, likely ending the '06 Rule 5 pick's time in the nation's capital. "'With the addition of Suzuki and the emergence of Solano and Leon,'" Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore recently, "we feel we’re very deep at that position.'"

If Ramos isn't back and healthy as quickly as expected, the Nationals know Solano and Leon can adequately back Suzuki up, and if Ramos is healthy he'll have to work his way back into the mix, because Davey Johnson told reporters last week that Suzuki will likely be the no.1 catcher at the start of the season.

"Suzuki will probably start the season at No. 1, making sure that Ramos is comfy," Davey Johnson told reporters, including CSNWashington's Mark Zuckerman, at the Winter Meetings this week. The Nats' manager noted that Ramos had extensive surgery and has a lot of work to do, but he liked what he saw from the young catcher when he was around the team at the end of the 2012 campaign. "'He really looked good to me with us in the playoffs, and he's driven. He's got a lot of potential offensively and defensively. We have two great No. 1 catchers.'"

Bill James' projections have Wilson Ramos producing a .265/.354/.398 line next season with 24 doubles and 13 HRs with Suzuki producing a .247/.306/.360 line with 20 doubles and six home runs, but that's over around 120 games for each catcher. Davey Johnson will have to balance things out to get the most out of his two talented backstops. Wilson Ramos established himself as the Nats' no.1 catcher in 2011, in 2013 he'll have to establish that he's healthy first before he can start pushing Kurt Suzuki for playing time behind the plate.

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