[ed. note - “Second in a two-part series. Read Part. 1 HERE.”]
WASHINGTON – The combined age of the two top catchers the past two seasons is now 70.
And the farm system has five catchers who are now minor league free agents and that includes Welington Castillo, who has been in the majors since 2010, caught for the White Sox in 2019, but didn’t get a shot with the Washington Nationals in 2020.
Despite those challenges, former Major League catcher/third baseman Michael Barrett is high on the catching depth in the Nationals’ system.
“One of the priorities of our organization is that our catchers help our pitchers get better,” he told Federal Baseball in a recent interview from his home in Atlanta.
Part of that excitement comes from watching several catchers on a regular basis during Instructional League, which ended in late October in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Two of the seven catchers on the original roster for instructs were Brady Lindsly, 22, a fourth-round draft pick in June from the University of Oklahoma, and Israel Pineda, 20, who has yet to play above low Single-A Hagerstown.
“Having that leadership he brought to the table was refreshing, especially with the relationship he had with (Jake) Irvin and (Cade) Cavalli” from Oklahoma, Barrett said of Lindsly, who was able to catch Nationals’ prospects Irvin and Cavalli in college.
“He made adjustments to help our pitchers,” Barrett said of the Dallas native Lindsly.
Pineda was part of the 60-player pool in Virginia this summer.
“How far he has come in such a short amount of time is amazing. It is amazing what he has done when you look at the limited amount of games we have been able to play for obvious reasons,” Barrett said of Pineda and the 2020 minor league season that wasn’t.
“I give a lot of credit to the staff that was Fredericksburg and helped Israel during that time,” Barrett added. “He got valuable experience from that, getting a chance to work with big league pitchers, and call a game against hitters with big league time. Working with pitchers in those situations was great for his confidence and his development.”
Barrett, who broke in with Montreal in 1998, has worked in player development for the Nationals for nearly seven years.
“We have a lot of great catching guys in this organization, starting with Bob Boone at the top,” Barrett said of the long-time advisor to Mike Rizzo who was an All-Star backstop with the Phillies and Angels.
“They put such a strong emphasis on our catching staff to help our catchers and the organization do better. We have scouts out there looking for guys that can help our organization get better,” Barrett added. “Guys that make an impact at every level. We do a phenomenal job of bringing in guys who have bought into that and a phenomenal job with the pitchers that we have had to make them better.”
Besides Lindsly and Pineda, other catchers at instructs were Geraldi Diaz, Mason Doolittle, Ivan Murzi, Wilmer Perez, and Ray Torres. Two catchers that were not there were Jackson Reetz and Raudy Read, who has played in 14 games with the Nationals since 2017.
Reetz was a third-round pick out a Nebraska high school in 2014. Barrett feels Read continues to improve.
“As far as the future, I feel our catching core gets stronger and stronger every year. We bring quality guys into the organization like Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, great guys and tremendous leaders. We are not just training our catchers to be big leaguers.”
“We are training our catchers to be World Series catchers and be championship-caliber frontline catchers. That is a big responsibility for a young man. Our young guys understand what that looks like, with a championship under our belt, because of those guys, because of the organization.”
Barrett, who was at Summer Camp at Nationals Park and the alternate site, was excited about the 2020 season before the pandemic shutdown spring training in March.
“I want to go as far as I can say from top to bottom we felt that no organization had the catching depth we had going into the season. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit and the camp stalled. Not to make any excuses, but going in I really felt we had an All-Star at every level this year. Not that it is (just) about making the All-Star team in the minor leagues. It was remarkable depth.”
Barrett notes there are many instructors in the system that were former catchers, including coaches Randy Knorr, Bob Henley, and Henry Blanco on the Major League staff of Martinez.
“It doesn’t matter how much time I had in the big leagues,” Barrett said. “If you don’t have the ability to coach the boys up, it doesn’t matter what you do as a player. It has no value. But if you can learn to translate that and learn from other guys with experience in the coaching world … you help those boys. All of those men give their time to me to help those boys, I can’t thank them enough.”
“Our catchers, they reap the benefits of the entire organization. Every coordinator has helped me [with] something along the road that has helped me to help the catchers.
“I don’t think any of us are done learning. We are fully committed to help the player get better.”
Despite the challenges of 2020, Barrett feels the catchers got better.
He notes that coaches had to learn how to keep in touch with players during the shutdown with the use of Zoom and other technology.
“There are positive that have come out of the pandemic” from a coaching view, he said. “The catchers are sending video of their workouts.
“We are having the opportunity to evolve and we have the opportunity to be involved without being hands on. We learned the value of that as an organization. The off-season is looking a lot like this season. We are seeing kids get better. We see kids working hard at home.”
“We have our philosophy and core principles and we are getting these kids to buy in 1,000 miles away. The experience has been great for me as a coach. We learned a lot as an organization during this pandemic.”
“I think the boys back home realize we are available 24/7. That has been refreshing to the players. There were times when we logged some serious hours with these guys. We expect that these (catchers) will respond in the same way in the off-season.”