Nationals reserve receiver spot up for grabs
So, after a 30-hour clearance sale, there was a bit of depth where there had been none before. And 13 months later, in the final weeks of a dismal season — the first full year of a rebuild that now includes the Nationals dealing with Juan Soto on Aug. 2 — that depth will be put under a microscope.
Ruiz, 24, is on the injured list with a testicular contusion and could be out for the season. In his absence, manager Dave Martinez promised a rotation between Adams, Tres Barrera and rookie Israel Pineda, who made his major league debut against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday. Behind those three minors are Millas and Brady Lindsly, who was a 2020 fourth-round pick and spent the entire season with the Harrisburg Class AA Senators.
But behind them? That’s when the options for Ruiz’s future backup dwindle.
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Since Ruiz went to IL, Adams has started twice and Pineda won the series finale in Philadelphia. Pineda, 22, has accelerated the system this season and has the most attacking potential of the group. He homered 16 times when promoted last Friday, including seven in 26 games at Harrisburg. He then pitted with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings before replacing Ruiz on the active roster. On defense, Pineda has a strong arm but needs to improve his framing and play calls. That’s common for a receiver his age.
At the moment, he is below Adams and Barrera in the unofficial pecking order. Experience is the differentiating factor. From last September to July, Adams, 26, had a fixed role of spelling Ruiz here and there. But once he struggled at home plate to start 2022, he was sent to the minors in favor of 27-year-old Barrera. Then they were returned again while the club was in Seattle at the end of August. Then Barrera was recalled when the rosters expanded to 28 players.
Adams’ batting average / on-base percentage / hitting percentage on the year: .188 / .261 / .297 in 111 plate appearances.
Barrera’s slash line: .182/.229/.212 in an even smaller sample of 35 plate looks.
Of the two, Adams showed far more advantage in the box, impressing in his first two months with Washington. Barrera, however, is a stronger caller who fits the profile of a traditional backup receiver. Millas and Lindsly do it too, although they are way out of the mix.
Millas, a 24-year-old hitter, started the year with an oblique injury and bounced between Harrisburg and high-level Class A Wilmington. Lindsly, 24 and a left-handed hitter, signed for a $20,000 bonus — well below his value two summers ago — and has a slash line of 197/260/.322 for the Senators. Taylor Gushue, 28, had left the Nationals, made his debut for the Chicago Cubs in 2021 and is now back with the organization and catching in Rochester. Wide receiver Jakson Reetz, chosen in the third round by Washington in 2014, left the club after last season, crashed it into the Milwaukee Brewers system, smashing 22 homers in AA, then was briefly with the Brewers in August before to be released and recovered. by the Kansas City Royals on an agreement with minors.
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There’s no rule that the Nationals have to find Ruiz’s complement internally. If they become contenders again with Ruiz catching, they could pair him with a veteran backup who calls good games and is a rock behind the plate. The Baltimore Orioles showcased that pattern with star rookie Adley Rutschman and 38-year-old Robinson Chirinos visiting Nationals Park for a two-game set this week. And if Ruiz hits for a lot more power down the line, it might be worth moving him to first base to preserve his legs and maximize his bat.
The thing is, for at least a year, Washington’s roster and plans will be very flexible. A handful of places will be treated as ongoing trials. The season-ending battle for Adams, Barrera and Pineda — the battle for staff and front office interest ahead of spring training 2023 — is only part of the picture.