Washington Nationals’ catcher Matt Wieters, in the first season of his career outside of Baltimore, MD, struggled offensively, producing a .225/.288/.344 line, 20 doubles, 10 home runs and a career-worst 62 wRC+ in 465 plate appearances, over which he was worth a career-low -0.2 fWAR.
Behind the plate, the veteran backstop posted a .993 fld%, allowed a total of five passed balls, threw out 19 of 76 would-be base stealers (25% CS%), and committed eight errors, one fielding, and seven throwing.
While it doesn’t look pretty statistically, one Nats’ pitcher after another praised the 31-year-old catcher’s work in his first season with the pitching staff in the nation’s capital.
Faced with the possibility of testing the free agent market again this winter, Wieters, who signed a 1-year/$10.5M deal in mid-February last Spring which included a player option for 2018 (at another $10.5M), exercised that option and chose to remain in D.C. for another run.
When he spoke to reporters after the first day at the General Managers’ Meetings on Monday in Orlando, FL, Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo discussed the depth behind Wieters, telling reporters, as quoted by Washington Post writers Chelsea Janes and Jorge Castillo, that the backup catcher might come from within the organization, with Jose Lobaton, who backed up in D.C. over the last four seasons, now a free agent.
Rizzo said he thinks that 24-year-old catcher Pedro Severino, who has 46 games in the majors on his resume, could potentially step up and split time with Wieters.
“I think [Severino] is definitely ready to handle it,” Rizzo said, adding that, “... that would give us a chance to play Matt less than we played him last year to keep him fresher.”
Rizzo, the WaPost reporters noted, mentioned how Wieters played 123 games in 2018, a step down from the 130, 139, 144, and 148 he played between 2010-2013, back before he was injured in 2014, but still the fifth-most in the NL, and eighth-highest total amongst major league catchers last season.
Severino, in his seventh campaign in the organization after signing as a 16-year-old for $55,000 in 2010, put up a .242/.291/.332 line, four doubles and five home runs in 59 games and 227 PAs at Triple-A Syracuse, making 17 appearances for the Nationals in his third season of limited major league action, and going 5 for 29 at the plate.
After the Nationals acquired Derek Norris last winter, and before they signed Wieters, Rizzo told reporters that he viewed Severino as potential No. 1 catcher at some point.
“Severino is a bright young prospect, that’s the catcher of the future here,” Rizzo said, adding that the backstop has what he described as, “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.”
Severino, of course, isn’t even the top-ranked catching prospect in the organization at the moment either, with 24-year-old backstop Raudy Read, who debuted in the majors this past season, ranked 9th overall in the Nationals’ system by Baseball America, and 14th on MLB.com’s list of the Nats’ Top 30 prospects.
Severino didn’t crack BA’s Top 10, but he was still listed as the Top Defensive Catcher in the organization, and landed just one spot behind Read on MLB.com’s list (14th/15th).
Now-former Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker talked about the impressive depth the Nats have assembled behind the plate late this past season, singling Severino out for praise.
“I think [Severino is] one of the guys that’s big in our future,” Baker said.
“This guy can catch. He calls a good game, the umpires have told me that he receives the ball well, gives them a good look.
“He throws well, he runs well,” Baker added. “His future is big.”
“Severino, he’s closer, but the upside on Raudy is big.”
With two close-to-major-league-ready, 24-year-old catchers in the organization, and a veteran who worked well with the Nationals’ staff last season signed for $10.5M, this doesn’t seem like the spot on the roster Rizzo and Co. in the front office will look to upgrade this winter. Will they add depth, however, to give themselves options should Wieters decline further, or get injured, leaving them with two unproven 24-year-olds behind the plate? Wieters as a bridge to the catcher of the future does make sense, given that the No. 2 gets enough starts to avoid hurting their development.