On Tuesday afternoon, the Washington Nationals confirmed their deal with free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki, 35, is setting up for his second stint at Nationals Park. He formerly caught here in 2012 and 2013 before being traded back the Oakland Athletics for Dakota Bacus, a right-handed pitcher in the low minors at the time. That was after a trade from the Athletics in August 2012 for David Freitas. Now, with his return, the emphasis is on the Nationals to find the catcher of the future.
Kurt Suzuki’s role on the 2019 team is to replace Matt Wieters on the 40-man roster and as the starting catcher. He will have backup with Raudy Read, Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino, a threesome of defensive-first catchers. Wieters’ time in a Nationals uniform would be considered disappointing. As a Baltimore Oriole from 2009-16, Wieters hit .256 / .318 / .421 with a 99 OPS+. His two years in a Nationals uniform were bad. Besides injuries wrecking his 2018 season, he hit .230 / .303 / .355 with a 71 OPS+. Things fell apart and the Nationals want to move on.
On the opposite side, Kurt Suzuki hit .276 / .341 / .485 with a 117 OPS+ with the rival Atlanta Braves in the same 2017-18 stretch. For the same perspective, from 2009-2016, Suzuki hit .252 / .305 / .370 with an 84 OPS+. It seems possible that joining the bandbox SunTrust Park helped him offensively. How that would continue in less of a bandbox of Nationals Park, we are not sure. Only time will tell that. Suzuki, age 35, can also fall off at any time from those numbers and revert to being a defensive-first catcher, something clearer in his 2009-16 numbers.
However, the Nationals need to start looking for their catcher of the future. Suzuki is a great stop-gap solution, but not a name of the future. Spencer Kieboom is not exactly the hitting-first catcher, along with the combo of Read and Severino. Read has been suspended once for performance-enhancing drugs and lost his 2018 season. So, we do not know what to expect out of the 25-year old Read. Severino is not the future, and more likely to be non-tender bait. So, somebody needs to be found.
The other catcher on the Nationals top 30 prospect list is Tres Barrera. The 24 year old out of the University of Texas is the #15 prospect coming into the 2019 season. He has a low hit but average power grading by scouting reports. However, his power is raw and he needs to work on his strikeout rates. If he can improve, there is a good chance he will be the catcher of the future to replace Suzuki. MLB right now has him arriving in the majors in 2019, which is possible. However, the 2020 season seems more likely as Barrera is just in High-A and likely to start next season in AA Harrisburg.
The Nationals need to consider either getting prepared for Barrera or trading for a catcher. Drafting another catcher would probably mean a college-level catcher with a faster time of arrival. However, something needs to change.
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