VIERA, Fla. — There is a career — a life, really — that Jesus Flores envisioned for himself. Ten years ago, when the New York Mets signed him as an international free agent and integrated him into their farm system, he believed he would be a starting catcher in the major leagues some day.
When the Washington Nationals nabbed him in the Rule 5 draft five years later, his path appeared more clear than ever. But injury struck in 2009 and while he was traveling the excruciatingly long road rehabilitation had put him on, the Nationals went out and filled the role Flores has once occupied. The team’s “catcher of the future” became Wilson Ramos, and the future is here.
But while Ramos, who is close friends with Flores, progressively seized the starting position from Ivan Rodriguez in 2011 and expects to keep it, Flores has worked back to full health. He had 522 at-bats in 2011 between the minor leagues, the major leagues and the Venezuelan Winter League and with each one he felt stronger, more confident. He arrived in camp on Saturday and acknowledged that while his shoulder felt healthy last spring — his first season playing in two years — this year it feels even more sure. Even stronger. Even more accurate when he’s throwing.
He also knows that the career in which in envisioned isn’t something he wants to give up on just yet.
“It’s hard to answer right now,” Flores said when asked if he felt he was ready to be the Nationals backup catcher. “I don’t feel like I’m that kind of catcher right now. I think I still have a lot of future. I’m still young for a catcher so, let’s see.
“That’s not my dream. But, right now, I am where I am. I just need to do my job.”
Flores, 27, said asking for a trade or the possibility of being traded is “not on my mind.” But it’s clear he feels he has the talent level to be a No. 1 catcher somewhere. In that regard, his performance in the Venezuelan Winter League certainly helped his cause — his .330 batting average, .368 on-base percentage and .514 slugging percentage only helped to up his value and continue to prove he’s healthy.
“It helped me a lot to just feel like the Jesus Flores I was before,” Flores said. “One hundred percent, all healthy, and I know what I can do. Just, right now, I just want to go out there and do my job. It’s the (front office’s) decision, whatever they want to do.”
And there has been interest in Flores from other teams. Trading him, though, would require the Nationals to know they had a suitable backup in the wings, whether that is someone like Triple-A catchers Jhonatan Solano or Carlos Maldonado or trying to bringing back Rodriguez, who is still a free agent.