In a rather freak incident behind home plate Saturday night, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos caught his cleat in the turf, tearing the ACL in his right knee which requires probable season-ending surgery. Although Ramos was having a down season thus far defensively, his bat was beginning to warm up, as he was hitting .265/.354/.398 with three home runs, and his absence from the bottom of the lineup will further weaken an already struggling lineup. Jesus Flores will now become the starting catcher, and the Nationals have summoned catcher Sandy Leon from Double-A Harrisburg to replace Ramos on the active roster.
Sandy Leon, 23, has long held the reputation as an elite, defensive-first catcher with an underwhelming bat, as evidenced by his career .249/.326/.334 batting line and 11 total home runs in 1,201 minor league at-bats, giving him the profile of a potential major league backup. However, Leon stood out to me when I visited spring training in March as his swing appeared shorter, quicker, and more compact from previous years and he was punishing the baseball. Those improvements have carried over from Viera as he has continued to swing the bat well, batting .319/.356/.457 in Harrisburg over 94 at-bats. Leon will be a below-average hitter with very little power in the major leagues; that said, his defensive skills behind the plate are tremendous and his ability to catch and throw is top-notch, as he has thrown out 46% of attempting baserunners in the minors. Certainly Leon could use an additional 500+ minor league at-bats to further develop as a hitter, but his defense should prove an immediate asset for the Nationals pitching staff.
The Nationals continue to suffer more than their fair share of injuries to their starters, and this lengthy injury to Wilson Ramos will be difficult for the team to overcome. Although Flores and Leon are every bit the defensive equal of Ramos, if not a slight upgrade, the team will miss Ramos’ raw power and ability to make contact lower in the batting order. The mounting injuries at critical positions (Closer, Left Field, Right Field, Catcher, etc.) and their cumulative effects are beginning to catch up with the Nationals and I fear one more injury will be the difference between making and missing the playoffs this fall. As Mike Morse did last season when given significant playing time, Jesus Flores has a golden opportunity to flourish as a starter, and how he responds to this challenge will be a deciding factor in the Nationals quest for the playoffs. No question the team will feel an impact from this injury, but I am convinced the tag-team of Flores and Leon will be outstanding defensively and provide enough offense to minimize the impact of the loss of Wilson Ramos.
This “Tip of the Fedora” goes out to all the Moms, Happy Mother’s Day to each of you! A very special Mother’s Day wish to my Mom, I love you and I miss you-
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