The Washington Nationals have added two catchers to the mix for Spring Training in the last two days as they bolster their backup corps and search for a catcher to work behind Wilson Ramos this year and fill in if Ramos is once again unable to remain healthy. "We're looking for value wherever we can find it," GM Mike Rizzo told reporters late last month. "If a backup catcher that fits what we're trying to do were to become available, we certainly would look into it."
The Nationals are, however, as Rizzo explained, happy with the in-house options they have available. "We like the pack of guys that are going to compete for it, [Jhonatan] Solano, [Sandy] Leon and Chris Snyder. We feel that they are very, very capable backups and with so many teams in the big leagues looking for a good catcher, we feel that we've got a great catcher in Wilson Ramos and capable backups to go behind him."
Nonetheless, there have been rumors with ESPN.com writer and MLB Network Radio host Jim Bowden, who was also Rizzo's predecessor as general manager in Washington, reporting this week that the Nats and Tampa Bay Rays had been discussing a possible deal involving 29-year-old catcher Jose Lobaton and now the Nationals have added two veteran catchers to the list of competitors in two days.
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Yesterday, 30-year-old veteran catcher Jeff Howell got an invitation to Major League Spring Training after playing for the High-A Potomac Nationals, Double-A Harrisburg Senators and Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in the last two seasons. In 2013, Howell split his time between Triple and Double-A, putting up a combined .259/.283/.453 line with seven doubles and six home runs in 43 games and 147 plate appearances. In nine minor league seasons, the '05 Royals' 10th Round pick has a .254/.313/.378 line.
This morning the Nationals announced via Twitter that they had signed veteran catcher Koyie Hill to a minor league deal that includes an invitation to Spring Training:
The #Nats have agreed to terms with catcher Koyie Hill on a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 5, 2014
Hill, 34, has played 75 games combined in the majors in the past three seasons with the Chicago Cubs in 2011-12 and Miami Marlins last season. Over that stretch, the veteran of 10 major league campaigns has a .182/.234/.242 line with six doubles and two home runs in 253 plate appearances.
That gives Washington five catchers (six if you include Brian Jeroloman) behind Ramos vying for the backup role heading into Spring Training. Barring additional moves, the Nationals are putting a lot of faith in Ramos' ability to stay healthy after consecutive seasons in which he blew out his knee (2012) and dealt with two hamstring injuries (2013). The work he did upon returning from the DL last July, however, has the Nats convinced Ramos has a big season ahead of him in 2014. "When he's healthy and playing he's very, very productive," Rizzo told reporters at NatsFest last month. "As productive as anybody. So, he's got to stay on the field and he has to prove that he can be that guy."
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