Signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2016 for $450,000, 22-year-old catcher Israel Pineda started the 2022 campaign at Class-A Wilmington, moved up to Double-A Harrisburg, and then jumped to Triple-A Rochester before the backstop was called up to make his big league debut this past September.
“He was doing really well,” Washington’s skipper Davey Martinez told reporters in the nation’s capital after the Nationals called Pineda up. “He jumped a bunch, he ended up in Rochester at the end there, and has been playing really well, so we want to give him an opportunity to come up here and see what he can do.”
Pineda posted a combined .258/.325/.458 line in 99 games and 400 plate appearances for the club’s three minor league affiliates, hitting 20 doubles and 16 home runs on the season before he got the call to make his MLB debut in the aftermath of what ended up being a season-ending injury for the No. 1 catcher in D.C., Keibert Ruiz.
Nats Notes: Pineda, “[r]anked in WSH system in RBI (2nd, 71), HR (5th, 16), SLG (5th, .458), XBH (6th, 38) and OPS (8th, .783).”
“Between him, Riley [Adams], and Tres [Barrera],” Martinez said once Pineda was up, “we got three good catchers, but I definitely want to get [Pineda] out there and see him play some games.”
“We’ll give him some opportunities to catch maybe 2-3 times a week just to see what he can do,” the manager added when asked how he’d distribute the workload for his backstops down the stretch.
The catcher made his big league debut two days later, “… the 3rd member of Washington’s 2016 international class to appear in MLB (Joan Adon and Luis García),” as the Nationals noted in their Season in Review.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about him,” Martinez said after penciling Pineda into the lineup for the first time.
“He’s handled the pitching really well down in Rochester. He swung the bat well.
“So he’s going to get an opportunity to catch.”
Martinez talked with reporters about what he would be watching as he and his staff evaluated the young catcher.
“I’m looking more about his defense, the way he handles the pitching staff, what he’s doing, how he’s learned,” Martinez explained. “I saw him the last couple days, he knows he’s going to catch Aníbal [Sànchez], and he was stuck at the hip with Aníbal for two straight days, so we’ll see how he handles him today.
“But yeah, he’s got the willingness to want to be better, and want to learn. He’s been working really hard with [Catching and Strategy coach] Henry [Blanco] every day so I’m looking forward to — like I said, we’re going to get him in there as much as we possibly can. I want to see him and I want to see his growth, I want to see how well he matures, and also too how well he does make adjustments as a hitter, and see if he can really become a hitter that we think he can become, but more or less, for me, with those young hitters, it’s just putting the ball in play, really trying to put the ball in play and stay in the middle of the field, not trying to do too much, which I’ve already seen a little of that, in his first young at-bats, where he’s really trying hard to do too much and I just want him to go out and just relax today.”
Pineda went 0 for 11 at the plate to start his major league career, but recorded his first hit in his final game of the year, and his manager said along they the young catcher started to get comfortable in a major league environment.
“He’s getting better. He’s been working with Henry, I’ve been watching his work with Henry, and he is getting better,” the skipper said.
“The first couple games was really hard on everything, but he’s a young kid, really trying to impress everybody, really trying, so it’s about just kind of getting him up here, getting him to relax a little bit. And his BP, I’ve been watching his BP, his BP has been a lot better. Staying in the middle of the field, not trying to hit the ball 600 feet.
“So I told him, I said, ‘You’re going to get an opportunity to go back out there and play, but you’re doing just fine. You’re learning a lot. You’re learning the pitchers. We send him out during games to catch bullpens so he can learn how to catch those guys out there, but the first three innings he sits with us in the dugout and watches the game, and I tell him, ‘Learn.’ I tell him learn the sequences, learn what’s going on, because you’re going to catch these guys one day, and you need to learn what they do.’
“He’s been great, he really has, and I think he’s going to be really good one day.”