Washington’s former catcher of the future Jesus Flores is finally healthy after missing nearly two years with shoulder problems and current catcher of the future Wilson Ramos is just about MLB-ready after spending last season at Triple-A, yet manager Jim Riggleman announced today that Ivan Rodriguez will be the starter behind the plate:
We’re going to go out there and Pudge is going to continue to lead our ball club as a leader behind the plate, a good hitter, just a good baseball player. He’s got a lot of baseball left. So he’s our catcher.
Rodriguez was once a great player and he remains very good at throwing out runners, but to call him “a good hitter” at this point is just silly. He batted .266 with a ghastly .294 on-base percentage and punchless .347 slugging percentage in 421 plate appearances last season, homering just four times, posting a terrible 66/16 K/BB ratio, and grounding into 25 double plays. Among the 205 players who batted at least 400 times his .640 OPS ranked 193rd. He’s also 39 years old and wasn’t any better in 2009, hitting .249 with a .663 OPS.
For their sanity this season and the team’s long-term success Nationals fans should hope that Flores or Ramos eventually steals the starting job from Rodriguez, who at this stage of his career (and on a team in rebuilding mode) seems like a much better fit as a prospect-mentoring backup. Here’s how Riggleman envisions the backup’s role:
Whoever wins that second spot is going to get incorporated into the lineup more and more as we go along,. Whether it’s Ramos or Flores, they’re very talented guys that we’re not going let them die on the vine. They got to get playing time. Whichever guy is there, they’re going to get playing time and stay sharp, and as the year goes on, probably get a little more playing time.
Well, that’s better at least.
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post speculates that the loser of the backup battle will head to Triple-A, which seemingly makes Flores the early favorite given that he’s two years older and has significant big-league experience. Another option is that the Nationals could look to trade Flores if he proves healthy this spring, as plenty of teams could use a 26-year-old catcher with some offensive upside.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.
There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.
Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.
According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.
There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.
Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.