In the wee hours of the morning on Christmas Day, 2009, the Nationals and Matt Capps came to an agreement on a one-year contract. A team looking for a quick fix to shore up the wretched back of its bullpen signed a closer who had been non-tendered. The events that followed made the transaction, in a roundabout way, one of the most meaningful since baseball returned to Washington.
At the 2010 trade deadline, the Nationals shipped Capps, their only all-star that season, to the Minnesota Twins for a Class AAA catcher from Venezuela named Wilson Ramos. They called up him up at the end of 2010. They gave him the catcher’s position this year. He had one of the best rookie seasons ever for a catcher, and he has given the Nationals a stalwart piece of their roster for the better part of the decade, if not more.
Under the radar, Ramos has become one of the best things that’s ever happened to the Nationals. It sounds overstated, but they have turned a relatively nominal closer into their catcher for the foreseeable future. He is having a tremendous finish to his rookie season – after hitting a home run Sunday, he’s hitting .331 with a .382 on-base percentage and .543 slugging percentage since July 29. Overall, Ramos is hitting .269/.335/.449. His .786 OPS ranks seventh among major league catchers. And pitchers love throwing to him. And he’s 24.
This winter at the general managers meetings, Twins GM Bill Smith talked about the catcher he had traded. “He’s got incredible raw power,” Smith said. “He can catch. He’s got a very strong arm. He’s just going to have to grow and mature and hit. He’s got all the tools. He just has to grow and advance.”
Ramos has advanced, and rapidly. The offensive season he’s had, which also includes 15 home runs, is not something rookie catchers accomplish. Entering Sunday, Ramos had punched up a 113 OPS+. As Aaron Gleeman pointed out at Hardball Talk, the only
rookie 23-year-old catchers to post an OPS+ above 100 with more than 400 plate appearances over the past 25 years are Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, Craig Biggio and Jason Kendall.
This is a rare season we’re watching. More proof: Ramos’s performance has been worth 3.1 wins above replacement. Among rookie catchers since 1950, that ranks 20th. With his strength and natural catching ability, Ramos could some season hit 25 home runs and rank among the league’s best defensive catchers.
Ramos has done the brunt of his damage this year starting in late July. He cited an increased focus on his offense after he spent the early portion of the year adapting to catching every day in the major leagues.
“I concentrate more, get a good pitch to hit,” Ramos said. “I was concentrating a little bit more on my offense because I know all year I’m working on defense, especially with the pitchers, the young guys. So I was concentrating on working on my defense. I get to a pretty good point with my swing.
“I say a couple days ago, it’s very important how you finish. It’s more important how you finish than how you started. The middle of the season, I was not hitting pretty good, but I was concentrating on finishing my season very hard. So that’s what I’m doing right now.”
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