Before the 2011 season, former Minnesota Twins' prospect Wilson Ramos had just twenty-two games and 82 major league plate appearances on his resume. Ramos, who entered the 2010 campaign as the no.2 prospect in Minnesota's organization (according to Baseball America), had a .241/.280/.345 line with 14 doubles and five HR's for their Triple-A affiliate that year when the Nationals acquired the then-22-year-old backstop in a July 29, 2010 trade that sent closer Matt Capps to the AL Central's Twins. Ramos played seven games in the majors with the Twins in 2010 when an injury to Joe Mauer forced an emergency call-up, and after 20 games with the Nats' top affiliate following the trade (over which he was 25 for 79 with three doubles and three HR's), he was brought up to the nation's capital for 15 games and 54 plate appearances at the end of the season.
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo described Ramos in an MLB Network Radio interview before the 2011 season as a catcher with tremendous upside. "He handles a pitching staff tremendously," the Nats' general manager said, "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." In Joe Mauer in Minnesota and then Pudge Rodriguez in the nation's capital, Ramos had two of the best possible mentors a young catcher could ask for.
"I'm very lucky to work with [Mauer and Pudge]," Ramos said last April. "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." It was the defensive end of his game the 23-year-old Ramos said he was focused on improving early last season. "The first tool for a catcher is behind the plate," he explained, "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."
By the end of the 2011 campaign, Ramos, who finished his first full major league season at +3.3 fWAR (second-best amongst rookie position players behind Danny Espinosa) with a .267/.334/.445 line, 22 doubles, 15 HR's, a .994 fld% and 32% CS%, had apparently developed a reputation as a catcher pitchers loved to work with. 26-year-old lefty Gio Gonzalez didn't say who he'd spoken to, but when he was asked about getting the opportunity to work with the Washington Nationals' big 24-year-old backstop and asked what he'd heard about Ramos before he'd had a chance to work with him, the former Oakland A's starter said, "I heard [Ramos] was fantastic. I heard he can call a game, you can close your eyes and feel comfortable to throw to this guy. That's definitely the kind of catcher I love to have. He takes all the stress and pressure off you."
Though the part about closing your eyes and throwing to Ramos was, of course, [a slight] exaggeration, the Washington Times' Amanda Comak wrote yesterday in an article entitled, "Gio Gonzalez lights up the radar gun, impresses in first start", that the Nationals' new starter did have complete faith in his catcher's ability to call a game the first time they worked together in Grapefruit League action this Spring. "He and catcher Wilson Ramos appeared to move seamlessly," the Times' Ms. Comak wrote after the game, "Gonzalez shaking off Ramos no more than twice," and after the left-hander had thrown 3.0 scoreless in his Spring debut, Ramos told the Washington Times' reporter, "'[Gonzalez] told me before the game he will throw everything I call.'"
Ramos also tagged a runner out at home on a play at the plate and erased a runner that reached on an error to start the third inning of yesterday's game with Atlanta, catching Braves' shortstop Andrelton Simmons trying to steal second with a strong throw that helped his pitcher out and got Ian Desmond off the hook after his third error of the Spring started the inning. Wilson Ramos is quickly becoming everyone's favorite backstop. His pitchers and teammates might love him, but opposing pitchers and runners will learn to fear the Nats' no.1 catcher if they don't already.