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Washington Nationals: Spring Training - Behind The Plate.

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The start of Jesus Flores' 2010 season will no doubt be delayed by his recovery from surgery on both his right shoulder, where Dr. James Andrews repaired a torn labrum, and his right elbow, where Flores had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip, but the 25-year-old backstop, who played just 29 games in 2009, is in camp and throwing according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson, who describes the first meeting between Flores and future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez on the first day of workouts in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium in an article entitled, "Pudge, Flores bond on first day of camp", where Mr. Ladson writes that the 38-year-old Rodriguez's, "...job is to be a mentor to Flores, who is considered the team's catcher of the future."

The reference, (by Mr. Ladson admittedly, and not the team), to Jesus Flores as the "team's catcher of the future" struck me as odd in light of the fact that earlier in the winter DC GM Mike Rizzo had said, in an interview with DC GM Jim Bowden of all places, that the two-year deal with Pudge Rodriguez, which many in the media questioned, would give Washington, in Mr. Rizzo's own words, as quoted in Washington Post D.C. Sports Bog writer Dan Steinberg's article entitled, "Jim Bowden interviews Mike Rizzo", a, "...timetable to get our other catching prospect, Derek Norris, into the big leagues." 21-year-old backstop Derek Norris, an '07 4th Round pick who hit .286 with 30 doubles, 23 HR's, 84 RBI's, a .418 OBP and a .513 SLG at Class-A Hagerstown in 2009, seemed then to be anointed as the Nationals' "catcher of the future."

I asked MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling in an early January email interview if he thought Jesus Flores was in danger of missing his chance to make a significant contribution behind the plate in Washington with Pudge Rodriguez signed for two years and looking to play somewhere around 70, 80, 90 games a season while Derek Norris, Sean Rooney and possibly even Bryce Harper loomed on the horizon as backstop options in the nation's capital and Mr. Goessling agreed that there appeared to be a shift in the team's thinking this winter:

"Ben Goessling: This, to me, might be the most interesting development of the offseason. When Rizzo started referring to Norris as the catcher of the future at the Winter Meetings, it didn't seem like a slip-up; I got the impression there's been a shift in the organizational philosophy that now has Rodriguez and Flores keeping the seat warm until Norris is ready. I'm not 100 percent sure they draft Harper, or if he stays a catcher in the event they do draft him. But I do think they're high enough on Norris and expecting enough out of Pudge that Flores, at the very least, isn't guaranteed to be in the picture anymore. There are some interesting implications in all of this for Flores, as well as how much success the Nats can claim for putting young pieces in place thus far."

The comments in the Winter Meetings Mr. Goessling refers to were recorded in an article at Nats320 by SBF entitled, "Mike Rizzo Side Session Concering Pudge Rodriguez", where the Nationals blogger quotes the DC GM stating that, Derek Norris, "..is an up and coming and potential significant contributor for us in the future," and according to Mr. Rizzo, it was, "...no coincidence that Ivan is signed to a two-year contract," since the Nationals, "...believe Norris is two years away from contributing in the Major Leagues." 

So who is the Nationals' catcher of the future? Accepting of course that such labels are a creation of writers and fans, and not necessarily a meaningful distinction in any way, if Pudge is signed for two years in which he'll play 70-90 games splitting time with a healthy Jesus Flores hopefully or Wil Nieves if necessary, is the plan to then have Flores and Derek Norris split time behind the plate once Pudge is gone, when Flores will 27 or 28-years-old and Norris 23-24? Rodriguez, Norris and Jamie Burke are the only catchers listed as being in camp with the Nationals now, along with the injured Flores. Aside from Sean Rooney what other depth do the Nationals have in the system behind the plate? How will the backstop situation in the system influence Washington's decision on possibly drafting Bryce Harper this June? Who is the Nationals' catcher of the future?