Entering last offseason, the catching cupboard was barren. At the major league level and apparently at the minor league level as well. Veterans Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki had held down the fort the past two seasons, with Raudy Read and Tres Barrera behind them. Some speculation revolved around signing either J.T. Realmuto or James McCann, the top two free agent catchers available, when free agency opened. The Washington Nationals chose several cheaper (much cheaper) options, though were left scrambling for a fill in once COVID hit the team.
Enter Jonathan Lucroy. Signed off the scrap heap as an emergency, and now apparently the Nationals Opening Day starting catcher, Lucroy brings to light a glaring issue for the Nats. Catching depth.
Jonathon Lucroy was signed by the Washington Nationals and reiterates the team’s need for more depth or more trust within the organizations catching corps.
With two catchers on the 40-man roster (Gomes and Barrera), the Nationals signed Alex Avila, Welington Castillo and Blake Swihart as depth pieces this offseason. Raudy Read, who was outrighted after last season, Jakson Reetz and Brandon Snyder (even though the infielder has appeared in just one major league inning as a catcher) were also in camp as catchers.
Why sign Lucroy now, out of desperation? Because the team doesn’t have catching depth, never has, and doesn’t trust the young guys in the system, never have.
They’ve have good catchers before. The ones who have been groomed in the system haven’t been given the keys to the major league car. Sandy Leon. Pedro Severino. Not great catchers. Good catchers, yes. Trusted in DC. Nope. Leon went on to have a few serviceable years in Boston and Severino is currently holding his own in Baltimore.
We can take this back to the 2009 season. A team which ended up with 103 losses on the year had a catching unit ravaged by injury late in the season. Instead of calling up Luke Montz and giving him some experience (Montz was a 17th round pick of the Montreal Expos, played in 10 games the year before), they purchased a 37 year-old Jamie Burke from the Seattle Mariners.
The Nationals have three catchers on their Top 30 prospect list. Israel Pineda, who has never played above Single-A, Tres Barrera, who has two plate appearances in the majors, and Jakson Reetz. Reetz was a third round draft pick in 2014 and hasn’t played above Single-A ball, either. He’s 25.
This is a fluke situation, where both catchers on the major league roster are unable to play. Welington Castillo is battling shoulder issues, and Read and Barrera are deemed too inexperienced. Even in game one, of a 162 game season.
Sooner or later the team will need to address the catching depth in the minor league system long term, or start trusting their ability to develop their own backstops.