Before the Washington Nationals acquired catcher Derek Norris from the San Diego Padres, with the intention of having the five-year veteran take over as the everyday backstop in the nation’s capital, it looked like they might go with Pedro Severino and Jose Lobaton behind the plate in spite of Severino’s lack of big-league experience.
Severino, 23, played 82 games at Triple-A Syracuse in 2016, in his first exposure at that level, putting up a .271/.316/.337 line, 13 doubles and two home runs in 82 games and 312 plate appearances and he put up a .321/.441/.607 line with two doubles and two home runs over 16 games and 34 PAs in the majors after making his debut in a brief two-games in the majors in 2015.
Known mostly as a defense-first catcher, Severino made strides on the offensive end and gained experience with four postseason appearances in the Nats’ NLDS matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
So where do things stand for Severino after the Norris deal?
“Severino is a bright young prospect, that’s the catcher of the future here,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said when he spoke to reporters at the Winter Meetings last week.
“He’s got a great skill set I loved in a short stint here, the energy, defensive prowess and the hitting approach that he showed. He’s got a great deal of ability that is going to play well in Washington. Norris is a former All-Star that we think has bounce-back potential. We know the make-up, we’ve loved the kid for a long time and we’re a lot deeper now at catcher than we were a couple of days ago.”
Wilson Ramos, who left as a free agent and signed in Tampa Bay, did the bulk of the catching in D.C. the past few seasons, but injured his right knee late in the year and moved on.
While it looked for a while like Severino might have a big opportunity in 2017, the Norris trade might delay his ascent to full-time duties.
So what was his reaction to the Norris deal?
“I don’t have to think nothing, because Rizzo has the option to bring in somebody and trade somebody if he wants,” Severino said, with the help of an interpreter this past weekend at Winterfest.
“So I just have to keep working hard and get ready for Spring Training and we’ll see what happens.”
Severino did, however, acknowledge that he has heard his name mentioned in rumors this winter, and he considered the possibility he might be dealt.
“My first thought, when my agent told me I was almost traded for [Chris] Sale, I just put my head down,” he said.
“It’s hard to go to another team and find a new family, so after that I just got ready and if I got traded I had to do the same thing I did here.”
What he did in the Nationals’ organization, over the past few seasons, was to build a reputation as a solid defender behind the plate, and, in the last season, show some significant improvement at the plate as well.
Severino credited his time in the Dominican Winter League with helping him get things going offensively.
“Dominican League is a tough league,” he explained, “because you have to face guys from Low-A Potomac to Double-A to the big leagues, Mexico, Japan, so you have to face everybody, so that teaches you how to approach -- how to change when you face different pitchers, different levels. So I had some guy over there help me stay to the middle of the field and that helped me in Triple-A and [the majors].”
Severino has played six games in the Dominican League this winter, though shoulder inflammation slowed him down. “But now everything is all right,” he said.
The experiences he had this season, from the Dominican League to Triple-A Syracuse to the majors in D.C. and even in the postseason, helped Severino gain some confidence in his abilities and prepare him for the future.
“I think for me it was real good. Because as a rookie catcher, at that time, like the playoffs and in the big leagues, was awesome. Because everything for myself that happened was excellent.”
“Everything that happened in the big leagues,” he said, “is all good and you have more experience.
“The playoffs was like, for me, real good because it helped me if you have [experience] playing in the playoffs.”
He also said he wanted to thank Dusty Baker for the opportunity the manager gave him to start in two postseason games and appear in four as a 23-year-old.
“He gave me the opportunity and I’m trying to enjoy it,” Severino said.
“I tell everybody the game is the same everywhere you go. So, I want to thank him because he gave me that opportunity, so I’m just trying to enjoy it every time he’s given me the opportunity.”
Asked about the improvements that he’s made in the last year, Severino offered the following thoughts:
“When you’re born, you start real small, so you get tall, so that’s what I say, I just start real small and everybody that’s helped me with the team, with the clubhouse, that’s helped me get tall.”