The catcher position may be the most highly-valued in baseball today. Very few quality catchers are on the market this offseason, and while part of that is simply luck that catchers did not become free agents this year, it’s clear that when teams have talented catchers they do everything they can to hold onto them. The Rays would love to acquire a legitimate starting catcher and end this whole business of Jose Molina being their regular catcher (no matter how good his pitch-framing abilities are). However, their optons are limited. Is A.J. Pierzynski, already 35, worth a multi-year deal for a team that can’t afford to make a mistake? It seems unlikely that could work. Is there anyone the Rays could acquire in a trade? Maybe, but the cost would be steep. Do the Rays have any catching prospects of their own coming? The short answer is that none are coming for at least the next two years and probably more than that. At the end of the day, the Rays best bet is probably to be ready to spend 2012 with Molina and Co. as their catchers but to take a shot at a player with some potential on a low-risk contract. Who could the Rays target? One option is former Washington Nationals catcher Jesus Flores.
Flores, who turned 28 in October, has accumulated 1014 big leagues plate appearances with the Nationals over the last 6 years since the Nats selected him from the Mets in the 2007 Rule 5 Draft, and the results have not been impressive as he has managed just a .241/.289/.375 line (76 OPS+) with 238 strikeouts against just 58 walks. Defensively, he hasn’t played well either, managing just a 25% caught stealing percentage and allowing 21 passed balls. Why is Flores even worth a look? That goes back to a comment that Baseball America made about Flores back in 2006.
Catchers with his blend of power and defense are tough to find, but he’s not ready to jump from Class A to the majors…. A year on Washington’s big league bench would hurt his development.
In 2006 as a 21 year old at High-A St. Lucie in the Mets system, Flores had a great season, managing a .266/.335/.487 line with 32 doubles, 21 homers, 70 RBI, and a 39% CS% defensively in 120 games. He did manage just a 127-28 strikeout to walk ratio ratio and allow 12 passed balls, but his potential was evident and the Nationals gave him a chance in the Rule 5 Draft. And the results were exactly in line with what Baseball America had predicted- Flores has never developed. He shows some power, averaging 11.3 homers per 500 plate appearances in the big leagues with swings like this and even showing potential defensively with throws like this one.
The problem for Flores is plate discipline that has never developed and defense that has never been smoothed out at least partially because of inconsistent reps. In the one season since 2006 where he got at least 300 plate appearances, 2008, Flores showed encouraging results, posting a .256/.296/.402 line (83 OPS+) with 18 doubles, 8 homers, and 59 RBI in 90 games and 324 plate appearances while posting a 27% CS%. Those still aren’t great numbers, but we never know how Flores could have done with more playing time as he made just 106 plate appearances in 2009 (actually posting a 130 OPS+) before undergoing right shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the rest of that season and all of 2010. And even amidst his struggles, Flores has been solid against left-handed pitching, posting a .252/.305/.425 line with 11 of his 23 home runs despite facing lefties in just 332 of his 1014 career plate appearances.
Jesus Flores has done nothing in the big leagues, but maybe the thing he needs the most is the full year in Triple-A he never had. He has things to work on, but he has ability that he still has not been able to tap into and it may not be too late. On a no-risk minor league deal, Flores is be a player that deserves a look. Maybe his once-promising career is ruined, but there’s still a chance that he will be able to become the above-average starting catcher scouts thought that he could be.