CINCINNATI — The tone inside the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse was a solemn one Friday night and Saturday morning as they absorbed the news that catcher Wilson Ramos would miss most, if not all, of the 2012 season to a torn ACL in his right knee. Ramos, a burgeoning star at catcher who has already endured so much since the end of this strong rookie season, is just the latest in a mind-boggling line of key players the Nationals have lost to injury.
But next to Ramos’ locker inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Great American Ball Park hung a new uniform. Catcher Sandy Leon was called up from Double-A Harrisburg late Saturday night to replace Ramos on the roster, giving the 23-year-old his first major league experience.
“I feel amazing,” Leon said. “I can’t even say how I feel because it’s amazing.”
Leon is the Nationals’ top catching prospect and was named the best defensive catcher in the Carolina League after the 2011 season by Baseball America. Nationals manager Davey Johnson called him “an outstanding receiver,” and the Nationals’ scouts rave about his abilities behind the plate as well as his quick release and strong arm.
After working with Rick Eckstein and Troy Gingrich in spring training, Leon made some adjustments with his hands at the plate as well and he began the season hitting very well at Double-A. In 27 games at Harrisburg this season, Leon hit .319 with a .356 on-base percentage and .457 slugging percentage. He had 10 doubles, four walks and only 10 strikeouts in 94 at-bats.
“He’s going to impress some people,” said Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who knows Leon fairly well.
Leon, 23 and also from Venezuela as Ramos and Jesus Flores are, provided the silver lining to the Nationals losing Ramos. The switch-hitter said he cried when the Nationals told him late Saturday night that he was heading to the major leagues. Then he called his family in Venezuela and they cried as well.
“Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, that’s her gift,” Leon said. “Very good gift. She was really happy. She cried. I called last night at like 12. They were awake, I don’t know how. (But) that was my first time calling too late. (She said) ‘What happened, what happened?’ I said ‘Mom, I’m going to the big leagues.’ She hand the phone to my father and start crying.”
Leon was signed in 2007 by Mike Rizzo and former scouting director Dana Brown, the team’s first signing out of Venezuela since the organization relocated from Montreal.
Leon admitted he did not expect his call from the majors to come so soon. He did not know that Ramos had been injured when he got a call to return to the field in Akron, Ohio, where the Senators are playing a weekend series.
“I didn’t know what happened (to Ramos),” Leon said. “When they called me, they didn’t tell me. I just found out this morning. I just talked to him in the training room. I feel bad for him because he’s from Venezuela and he’s my friend. It’s bad for him but it’s good for me.”
Leon will serve as the backup to Flores for the time being and it’s unclear right now if the Nationals plan to keep him on the roster for the long-term in Ramos’ absence, but the door is open for him to seize the opportunity and stay here.
“That’s my goal,” Leon said. “I want to play. I want to stay as long as I can. We’ll see what happens.”