Jesus Flores’s current status clashes with his own view of himself. He is the Nationals’ backup catcher, clearly No. 2 behind Wilson Ramos, after playing 30 major league games last season. But he is also 27 years old and healthier now than he’s been in years, a lot of future ahead and ready to reclaim what made him an emerging star in the recent past.
So, as pitchers and catchers report today, can Flores prepare himself to be a backup?
“Good question,” Flores said. “Hard to answer. I don’t feel like I’m that kind of catcher right now. I feel like I still have a lot of future. I’m still young for a catcher. We’ll see. That’s not my dream. But right now, I am where I am. I just need to do my job.”
Flores made his frustration clear at the end of the last season about his place with the Nationals. With Ramos, 24, established as the Nationals’ catcher for the next decade if all goes well, Flores will not receive his opportunity at becoming an everyday catcher in Washington.
His youth gives him value in a trade, but his injury history – he missed most of 2009 and all of 2010 with a torn labrum – provides uncertainty. If Flores performs well this spring, he could attract attention. The Nationals would be left without a definite backup, but they have depth in the minors (and, hey, Ivan Rodriguez is still available as a free agent). For now, Flores has not asked for a trade.
“That’s not in my mind,” Flores said. “I’m going to look for another opportunity to be a regular catcher here or, I don’t know. Right now, I’m just focused on having a good spring training, and then we go from there.”
Flores has reason to believe he can still catch as a starter again. Statistics from winter ball are often fool’s gold, but Flores hit .330/.368/.520 with eight homers over 218 at-bats in the Venezuelan winter league this offseason. He also felt more strength come back into shoulder, and threw more accurately to bases.
“Winter ball gave me the opportunity to gain all that confidence and feel sure in myself that I can really play everyday and be that player on any team,” Flores said. “Most important for me, I was healthy the full time. I had fun. It helped me a lot, just to feel like the Jesus Flores I was before. I know what I can do. I want to go out there and do my job. I’ll let the front office make their decision, whatever they want to do.”