The Washington Nationals traded Matt Capps tonight and acquired the Minnesota Twins number-two prospect, catcher Wilson Ramos, along with reliever Joe Testa.
Ramos, 22, entered the 2010 season ranked as the 58th top prospect in baseball and is considered by many as big league ready. However, with the Nationals already holding stock in 25-year-old catcher Jesus Flores, 21-year-old catching prospect Derek Norris, and not to mention Ivan Rodriguez (we wont even go there with Bryce Harper), the backstop position just got a bit more crowded.
Ramos signed with Minnesota in 2004 as an 18-year-old un-drafted free agent. The athletic catcher boasted both plus hitting and fielding skills as he progressed through the minors, batting above .286/.339/.434 in year-long stops at rookie ball, Single-A, and high Single-A.
In 2009 the backstop had a breakout season, combining to hit .317/.341/.454 in 54 games in Double-A New Britain, while throwing out an impressive 41% of would-be base stealers. At the young age of 21, Ramos had arrived as a true triple-threat prospect with an extremely advanced bat, glove, and arm.
Entering 2010 Baseball America named Ramos the Minnesota organization's second best prospect behind outfielder Aaron Hicks. They also named Ramos as the organization's top power hitter and best defensive catcher. However, despite being considered by many as one of the top catching prospects in baseball, he was still stuck behind three-time batting champion, and hometown hero, Joe Mauer.Baseball Prospectus wrote:
"Ramos is a comer, and would probably be even more of a hot prospect if he didn't have a Mauer-sized mountain of a roadblock in his way. As a hitter, he's developing power and holding his own as he moves up the ladder. As a catcher, he's already a great thrower, having gunned down 41 percent of attempted basestealers in 2007 and 43 percent in 2008. If he can improve his plate judgment, he'll be a star. If not, he's probably heading for a peak similar to that of fellow Venezuelan backstop Ramon Hernandez."
Now in Washington, Ramos's will have the ability to make a push to stay in the majors permanently. However, his presence shakes up an already unstable future at the backstop position for the Nationals. With future hall-of-famer Ivan Rodriguez still under contract for 2011, many assumed that Rodriguez would split time next season with the once-thought 'catcher-of-the-future' Jesus Flores.
Flores earned that distinction after strong showings in 2008-2009 before falling to injuries which kept him out for the majority of 2009 and so far for the entirety of 2010. The move to acquire Ramos speaks volumes about the organization's confidence in Flores' health, and perhaps could officially signify the end of his era as the 'catcher-of-the-future.'
But with Ramos installed as the potential backstop for the Nationals going forward, what does that mean for the club's existing top catching prospect, Derek Norris?
Norris, just 21, entered 2010 as the 38th best prospect in baseball and the Nationals' number two guy according to Baseball America. He was also named him the organization's best hitting prospect for power, average, and patience. However, Norris suffered set-backs this season in the form of two-separate injuries and an extremely poor .231 batting average and .374 slugging percentage. While his hitting numbers are down the patience that made him the top rated hitting prospect in the system still remains as Norris is getting on base at .408 at high Single-A Potomac.
This move for Ramos may very well signify that the Nationals will attempt to move the strong-hitting Derek Norris to either first base or the outfield. Norris's value was almost entirely held in his bat and with the defensive prowess of Ramos, it just makes more sense to try and capitalize on Norris's best strength, his hitting. Moving Norris to an easier position like first base or outfield will also accelerate his development, assuming he gets his hitting back on track next season.
The Nationals now have themselves a major league-ready potential star in Wilson Ramos, two capable back-ups/part-time starters in Ivan Rodriguez and Jesus Flores, and a future all-star caliber first-baseman/outfielder in Derek Norris.