The one really noteworthy name among the first cuts this Spring was that of Nationals’ catcher Raudy Read, the 26-year-old backstop, who was optioned to Triple-A Fresno on Sunday afternoon.
Read, who signed with Washington as an amateur free agent in 2011, put up a solid .275/.317/.546 line with 17 doubles and 20 home runs in 82 games and 328 plate appearances for the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate in 2019, after he was limited to 53 games between Double and Triple-A in 2018 by an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
In six games this Spring before he was optioned out, Read was 2 for 11 (.182/.308/.545) with a double, a home run, two walks, and three Ks.
Manager Davey Martinez told reporters in West Palm Beach, FL that the decision to option Read early was made with the intention of getting the catcher regular at bats over the rest of the Spring.
“Raudy has all the tools, we just have to get him to be more consistent behind the plate,” Martinez said, as quoted by Washington Post beat writer Jesse Dougherty once the first roster moves were officially announced.
“Just continue to get at-bats. If one of our two guys goes down, he’s on the roster, he’s a guy that will potentially come up and help us.”
Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes split the Nats’ catching duties in 2019, starting 160 of 162 games in the regular season, with Read starting the other two. Suzuki and Gomes are back in 2020, and expected, if healthy, to handle the bulk of the work again this year, but Martinez said that as they did last season with their Triple-A affiliate on the West Coast, they could keep the catcher on the top of the depth chart a bit closer (meaning at Double-A Harrisburg) in case they are needed at any point.
“We haven’t decided what we’re going to do with [Read] yet, whether we’re going to keep him closer,” Martinez explained.
“When we sit down to see where everybody else is at, that would be a pretty good idea for me, that he would be closer. But we’ll see.”
In addition to the move to option Read, catching prospect Jakson Reetz and five others in camp with the Nationals this Spring (Drew Ward; Jhonatan German; Derek Self; Paulo Espino; and Mac Williamson) were re-assigned to minor league camp with their final destinations yet to be determined.
With Read and Reetz out, catchers Tres Barrera, Welington Castillo, and Taylor Gushue are the only other catchers remaining in big league camp with Suzuki and Gomes.
Martinez said he told all of the players who were optioned and reassigned on Sunday that it wasn’t a reflection of what they showed the Nationals’ brass this Spring.
“The guys we sent down, I told them hey, ‘I never judge anybody in Spring Training,’” he said.
“They’re here because of merit and what they’ve done, and we believe they can help us in the future.”
Will Suzuki, 36, and Gomes, 32, be able to handle the workload they did in 2019, on the way to the Nationals’ World Series win? Suzuki is reportedly past the elbow issues which limited him late last season, and Gomes is looking to bounce back from a down year offensively, so the Nats have their big league tandem provided both can stay healthy and productive.
Read and Barrera are on top of the depth chart, and the only other catchers currently on the Nationals’ 40-Man, and Castillo, signed to a minor league deal this winter, would have to accept a move to one of the minor league affiliates if he’s not on the Opening Day roster.