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Washington Nationals' Prospects And Catchers Start Play In The Venezuelan Winter League.

Catchers Sandy Leon and Carlos Maldonado and second basemen Seth Bynum and Adrian Sanchez are playing for the Aguilas de Zulia (Zulia Eagles). Ryan Tatusko's pitching for the Don Baylor-helmed Bravos de Margarita (You can figure that translation out.) Henry "Lightning" Rodriguez is on the roster of Leones del Caracas, (Leones = Lions) along with NFA's favorite reliever Josh Wilkie. Jesus Flores is behind the plate again with the Navegantes del Magallanes. (Magellan's Navigators, named after the late 15th early 16th century Portugese explorer Fernando de Magallanes.)

24-year-old right-hander Hector Nelo, who'll be pitching for the Tiburones (Sharks) de La Guaira, was a Texas Rangers' draft pick signed by the Nationals this past April after he was released by the Rangers. Nelo pitched for the Class-A Potomac Nationals this year, saving 18 games and posting a 2.40 ERA and a 2.67 FIP in 36 games and 41.1 IP for the P-Nats over which he walked 16 (3.48 BB/9) and struck out 35 (7.62 BB/9) while holding opposing hitters to a .204 BAA (and he didn't allow a single HR.) Joining Nelo will be 24-year-old Curacao-born right-hander Shairon Martis, who spent the 2011 campaign at Double-A Harrisburg, throwing a 7.0-inning no-hitter in August and finishing the year (8-6) with a 3.05 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 39 BB (2.64 BB/9) and 146 K's (9.88 K/9) in 23 games and 133.0 IP. 27-year-old OF Gregor Blanco, acquired by the Nats from the Royals in May, is also on the Tiburones' roster.

And finally, Wilson Ramos will be behind the plate for the Tigres de Aragua this winter, so both of the Nats' catchers will be playing in the Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional this winter. Asked about the importance of Jesus Flores' participation in a conversation with the D.C. press corps in late September, Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson said, "I know last year he played a little bit in Venezuela in the winter. I haven't talked to him about what he feels he needs, but I think that this year has been a good stepping-stone for him to come back to be the kind of catcher that everybody knows he is and can be."

"So if you asked [Flores], I think he'd say he's fully-recovered," Johnson continued, "And he may want to go out and play. It wouldn't be something that I'd say he has to do, [but] probably like to see him do a little of it, but that's entirely up to him." Last year, before Flores worked his way back to the majors following two years of rehabbing from shoulder and elbow surgeries, the 26-year-old backstop put up a .322/.365/.460 line with six doubles and two home runs in 25 games and 87 at bats in the VWL.

Wilson Ramos played with the Araguas in 2010 as well, hitting 17 doubles and 9 HR's over the course of 47 games and 180 at bats in which he posted a .322/.390/.567 slash. In 113 games and 435 plate appearances with the Nationals in 2011, the 24-year-old backstop hit 22 doubles and 15 HR's, with a .267/.334/.445 line in his first full season in the majors. "I'm sure if I'm the team in Venezuela," Davey Johnson said, "I'd want [Ramos] to play, but that's going to be entirely up to what he thinks he needs to stay in shape over the winter and be ready for next spring."

Ramos told reporters he planned to play in the VWL to work on his swing. The Nationals' manager said he and Ramos had discussed the catcher's approach at the plate. "I talked to him a little bit about his swing," Johnson said, "I thought he [has] just a little tendency to sometimes be a little too much upper cut. But he's worked on it a little bit here and I like his progress. I like where he's at, he's getting right to where he needs to be, fine-tuning it might [not] be a bad idea." 

Jesus Flores went 3 for 5 with a double last night in his VWL debut. Seth Bynum was 3 for 5 with a double as well, and Henry Blanco was 2 for 4 with a HR. Sandy Leon was hitless in one at bat, and Carlos Maldonado was 0 for 2 with a walk. 23-year-old '07 10th Round pick Patrick McCoy appears to be the only Nats' prospect participating in the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico, where he made his debut last night for the Venados de Mazatlan (The Mazatlan Deer), giving up four hits and a run in 0.2 IP. The Dominican and Puerto Rican Winter Leagues have yet to get underway, but there will likely be Nats' prospects on the rosters of those teams as well, updates to follow throughout the winter...