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Matt LeCroy is high on Washington Nationals’ prospect Israel Pineda

Former Nationals’ backstop and bullpen coach has been able to watch young prospect during Instructional League in Florida …

2020 Washington Nationals Photo Day Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Matt LeCroy played in 476 games in the majors and 124 of those came as a catcher.

The South Carolina native caught 13 games for the Nationals in 2006 and was later the bullpen coach for Washington.

So his opinion on catchers has merit – and he is on high on Nationals’ prospect Israel Pineda, who turned 20 in April.

Pineda was a late addition to the 60-player pool this summer in Virginia and has been on the roster of the Nationals at Instructional League in Florida this month.

“His body has transformed,” LeCroy said from Florida, where he is in his first season as quality control coordinator for the Nationals.

“His throwing has dramatically improved. He is turning himself into a good prospect.”

Pineda is from Venezuela and began his career in the Nationals’ system in 2017 with 17 games in the Gulf Coast League.

The next year he hit .273 in 46 games with Auburn in the New York-Penn League.

Pineda advanced to low Single-A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League in 2019 and hit .217 with seven homers in 101 games.

In his career, he is hitting .239 with 11 homers and 71 RBI in 164 games with an OPS of .641.

But defense, of course, is the main value for a catcher.

“He has a chance. We have some other (catchers) that are young and have not played yet” at a high level in the minors, LeCroy said. “This was a good experience for them” in Florida.

Other catchers with the Nationals in instructs were Geraldi Diaz, 20; Mason Doolittle, 22; Brady Lindsly, 22; Ivan Murzi, 19; Wilmer Perez, 22; and Ray Torres, 20.

Lindsly was drafted out of the University of Oklahoma in the fourth round earlier this year.

The two main catchers for the Nationals last year, Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki (who is set to become a free agent when the World Series ends), are a combined 70 years of age.

Could Pineda be a backup in 2021 at the Major League level?

“You never know. He has put himself in a good position,” LeCroy said. “He has become more athletic. He has a chance to do (offense and defense) both very well.”