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Jesus Flores playing in Venezuela

By Adam Kilgore

Nationals catcher Jesus Flores continued his comeback from a devastating series of right shoulder injuries Tuesday night, making his debut for Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League. Flores, who also participated in the Nationals' Instructional League, went 2 for 3 with a double in his first game.

Flores caught all nine innings Tuesday night, but he did not have to make any throws to bases, said Nationals first base coach Dan Radison, a coach in the Venezuelan league. The plan for Flores, Radison said, is for the catcher to play three times per week.

Flores's mere presence is an exceedingly promising sign. Flores, 26, missed this entire season after labrum surgery, which followed Flores playing in just 29 games in 2009 because of shoulder issues. At spring training last year, Flores could not even throw the ball back to the pitcher, resorting to tossing the ball to a coach standing a few feet away as he caught bullpen sessions. For much of the season, he could not even swing a bat.

The physical pain and mental frustration that defined the past two years for Flores seems to be melting away. He hit a home run in his very first game in the Instructional League. If he is healthy enough to play in his native Venezuela, in one of the most competitive winter leagues there is, he should be ready to go once spring training arrives.

A healthy Flores would provide the Nationals both a young, offensive threat behind the plate and a crowded stable of catchers. Without Flores in the mix, the Nationals planned on starting the 2011 season with a platoon of Ivan Rodriguez and rookie Wilson Ramos, the catcher that became their presumed Catcher of the Future after the Nationals acquired him for closer Matt Capps. Derek Norris, a 21-year-old on-base machine at Class A Potomac, is perhaps the Nationals' most promising prospect outside of Bryce Harper, and he also plays catcher.

Who knows how it'll play out, but for now file it in the "good problems to have" folder. When healthy, Flores, a former Rule 5 Draft pickup, had become one of the promising pieces of the Nationals' future. In 2009, he began the season hitting .311/.382/.522 (average/on-base/slugging) in 26 games. He took a foul ball off the shoulder, and it would not heal. He returned for three games in late September, at which point the Nationals noticed the torn labrum.

Flores has not been 100 percent since that foul tip struck his right shoulder. Finally, some 18 months later, that is starting to change.

By Adam Kilgore  | November 3, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
 
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Comments

Hoping for the best with Flores and having 3 catching prospects is not a bad problem to have! :)

Posted by: markfd | November 3, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Hoping for the best with Flores and having 3 catching prospects is not a bad problem to have! :)

Posted by: markfd | November 3, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Great news. Like markfd said, having 3 catching prospects is a good problem to have!

Posted by: FloresFan | November 3, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Three good-hitting young catching prospects in hand beats a Dunn in the bush any day.

Posted by: FeelWood | November 3, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

If Flores comes all of the way back, I wonder who is the odd man out between Norris, Flores, and Ramos? You would think one of the three would be a part of a trade package for more pitching.

Posted by: Jurgensen9 | November 3, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

I hope Flores makes it back. He was a great Rule 5 pick by Bowden. Jurgensen9 is right -- I'd guess that the Nats move one of these guys at some point prior to Spring Training, given the club's big needs for other pieces, it does not make a lot of sense to hang on to all three of the comers and Pudge. Maybe they package one of these guys with Willingham and get something else we need in return.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 3, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I doubt the Nats will be able to move Flores this year, as every other team has the same questions about his health that we do.

Posted by: rnkorby | November 3, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Really happy to hear some positive Jesus news!

Posted by: Kev29 | November 3, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Flores is one of those players that I just plain like, and really want to do well. So it's great to hear positive news after what has to have been a terribly tough time for him.

But catchers get banged up, and I wonder if Flores is another injury and long recovery waiting to happen. Maybe you all out there know better than I.

Posted by: KenNat | November 3, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't even think about moving any of them yet. We still don't have definite word on Dunn but assuming that Boz is correct and he is gone you can't tell me that the move to first base doesn't make some sense for Flores or Norris. The Indians and Red Sox used Martinez this way and I think it would work for us as well. Would be interested in seeing what people here think about the best move to replace Dunn between Willingham or Morse. Lets assume they keep this spot "in-house" and don't go the FA route.

2012 could look like
1b - Flores/Norris
2b - Espinosa
3b - Zimm
SS - Desmond (would be ok flipping him to 2b)
lf - Willingham
Cf - ????
Rf - Harper
C - Ramos

Posted by: sjm3091 | November 3, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

@sjm -- This is probably why the Nats list a top of the order hitter (read CF) as one of their top priorities after pitching. I wonder if Tyler Moore or Chris Marrero will develop into something special too. If that happens, Flores, Ramos or Norris will be superfluous.

Posted by: DavidandDonald1 | November 3, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

@sjm: In terms of a CA, I'm one of those guys who thinks defense first. I'd hope for 1)a strong, accurate arm, 2)the agility to react behind the plate, minimizing PB/WP problems, and 3)the ability to call a game maximizing a pitcher's strengths against the opposing batter's weakness. If the position can also generate an overall slash line of .240/.320/.360, with 10HR & 65RBI, I'd be comfortable; Anything above that offensively is gravy, imo.

Posted by: BinM | November 3, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

thank you both!, never too old to learn. I agree with BinM that defense comes first so I am guessing Ramos would fit that description. From what I remember, Flores was not that bad either and if Pudge gets more rest next year he would not be a negative either. Looks like that position is solid. Centerfield, not so much.

Posted by: sjm3091 | November 3, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of that singing frog who could perform spectacularly until it came to a public forum. Will Jesus be there when the bell rings, or will we be the like the frog's owner at the end of the cartoon, homeless and destitute?

Posted by: paulkp | November 3, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Glad to see Jesus finally making progress but there will be questions about his durability until he logs some sustained playing time. Hope he makes it all the way back but it could be a long road.

Posted by: Natmeister | November 4, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Great! Glad to hear it. Now is the time to trade Pudge Rodriguez now that we have Ramos, Nieves, and Flores coming back. Trade Pudge and Willingham and get some young pitching BEFORE they go away next year. Norris is will be in double A ball this year, maybe AAA. Ramos should be our starting catcher, with Nieves backing him up. Flores can catch for Syracuse (AAA) this coming year until he is hitting on all cylinders. Then I'd bring him up to the Nats and bring up Norris to AAA.
Gotta trade Pudge now!

Posted by: shred11 | November 4, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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