Washington Nationals' Backstop Depth Starts With Kurt Suzuki And Wilson Ramos; Doesn't End There

Patrick McDermott

Washington Nationals' catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee last May, but the 25-year-old backstop is expected to be ready for the start of the 2013 campaign when he'll team up with Kurt Suzuki to give the Nats a strong duo behind the plate in the nation's capital.

Any hope of a then-24-year-old Wilson Ramos returning to the field in 2012 ended after the first surgery the catcher had last June to repair the torn ACL he suffered in a May 12th game against the Cincinnati Reds. During the procedure the surgeons discovered he'd also torn his meniscus. As the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore reported at the time, the first procedure performed on Ramos's knee revealed damage to the meniscus so severe they couldn't operate on the ACL until it healed further. In the absence of Ramos, the Nats used Jesus Flores, Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Carlos Maldonado behind the plate until August when they acquired Kurt Suzuki from Oakland in a deal that sent catching prospect David Freitas to the A's.

After settling in with the NL East-leading Nationals, Suzuki caught fire down the stretch, posting a .301/.355/.482 line over the final 26 games and 93 plate appearances in the regular season with twice as many home runs (4) as he hit over the previous 349 PAs in 2012. In the 29-year-old catcher's first postseason series he was 4 for 17 with two walks and four Ks in fives games. Ramos is on schedule to return in 2013, as the Nats' then-69-year-old skipper explained this past November. "I think he's going to come back 100%," Johnson told reporters, "And I had him with us the the last couple weeks, he's on the bench in the playoffs and he's strong as a bull and he's a hard worker and he's got a lot of talent. And Kurt Suzuki? Suzuki's got a lot of talent too, so we're blessed with two no.1 catchers."

Ramos was coming off a .267/.334/.445 2011 season in which he hit 22 doubles and 15 HRs in 113 games and 435 PAs over which he was worth +3.3 fWAR. The former Minnesota Twins' prospect had a .265/.354/.398 line with two doubles and three home runs in 25 games and 96 plate appearances before suffering the season-ending injury. In a press conference with reporters at the Winter Meetings, Johnson was asked if he saw Ramos as the no.1 backstop once he was 100%? "It depends on his mobility and what the doctors say," Johnson said, "He had two drastic knee surgeries. 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."

"Sandy Leon and Solano, they're not chopped liver," Johnson continued, "So we're pretty well set there."

The Nationals' manager didn't seem at all concerned about the possibility of having two healthy no.1 catchers on the roster in 2013. "Whatever I do," Johnson said, "I'll probably be successful at it. We'll just have to see how it goes. Guys go real good, stay a little longer, and cools off, I'll go with the other guy. But I'm very comfortable with both of them. I think they handle pitching staffs great, blocking and throwing are outstanding." Suzuki had a .993 fld% last season, with a 26% CS%. Ramos, 154 games into his major league career, has a .992 fld% and a 27% CS%.

23-year-old Sandy Leon was named the Best Defensive Catcher in the organization by Baseball America. Leon cracked the Top 20 on MLB.com's list of the Nats' top prospects. Jhonatan Solano, 27, was 11 for 37 (.314/.351/.571) in his first 12 games in the majors last season. 34-year-old Carlos Maldonado just completed a run in the Venezuelan Winter League in which he had a .270/.379/.522 line, nine doubles and 12 HRs in 49 games and 178 at bats. Having Suzuki and some depth around will allow Wilson Ramos to take his time as he recovers. If Ramos is healthy and his pre-injury self, the Nationals have two no.1s available as they attempt to defend their NL East crown. You have to wonder if the A's will trade Derek Norris back to the Nationals if the Nats end up needing any help...?

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