- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

Erick San Pedro doesn’t look like the same player who spent the past two seasons struggling with injuries.

San Pedro was a second-round pick by the Montreal Expos from Miami in 2004 and was considered one of the top college catchers in the draft. He got a late start in 2005 because of a torn thumb ligament after being drafted, and then his season ended after a collision at home plate in only his seventh game.

Last season was also a lost one for San Pedro. While he was healthy enough to play, he was far from 100 percent and shuffled between three affiliates.

“It has been frustrating going from injury to injury,” San Pedro said. “[2006] was still a recuperation year because I couldn’t really run well and my ankle hurt all the time. I couldn’t play more than maybe seven innings before it just started pounding.”

After a year in which San Pedro hit less .200 at each of his three stops (.165 overall in 185 at-bats), he put himself through a rigorous offseason training session. Finally healthy enough to run and lift weights consistently, San Pedro shed 20 pounds and parlayed the work into an effective spring training.

“It is pretty exciting when you see a guy come to spring and you say, ‘Wow. This guy went home and got serious about his career,’ ” said Bob Boone, the Washington Nationals’ assistant general manager and vice president of player development. “That is one of the checkpoints in a guy’s career. The minor leagues are very tough, and it is brutal to get through. You have to learn how to take care of yourself.”

San Pedro had some company while he was working out in Coral Gables, Fla. The Nationals’ first pick in the 2006 draft, Chris Marrero, sought out San Pedro and became his workout partner.

At 23, San Pedro is one of the elder statesman for Hagerstown, Washington’s new South Atlantic League affiliate. There are a few younger players on the team, such as Marrero and fellow 2006 pick Stephen King, who also hail from Florida, and San Pedro could be a mentor for them.

“[Marrero] asked me where I was going to work out, and I went to Miami,” San Pedro said. “We worked out down there, and I kind of told him how it was, what to be careful for, how to prepare for games and how to handle certain situations and stuff. I am always giving them advice because I’ve been around a little bit longer, but they know what they’ve got to do. They are big boys now.”

Hampered by injuries the past two seasons, San Pedro needs to make some strides this year. He has been recognized as one of the best defensive catchers in the Nationals’ system, and it remains a position at which the organization is thin.

San Pedro’s glove work could be his best asset going forward. But provided he can stay healthy, his bat will determine how far he goes.

“He’s going to tell us,” Boone said. “He is off to a decent start, but he hasn’t hit at all since he was drafted. You can’t move if you don’t hit the ball.”

Notes — While Marrero and King began their seasons with the Suns, there were several notable names missing from the team’s roster. It had been previously reported that 17-year-old shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez would join the team.

“I think Smiley could play at Hagerstown, but I didn’t want to take a young Latin player and subject him to that weather,” Boone said. “With his youth there are a lot more people that speak his language in Florida. It might be a conservative approach, but you want to be cautious.”

Three other high 2006 draft picks — center fielder Stephen Englund and pitchers Colton Willems and Glenn Gibson — also started their seasons at extended spring training. Boone said Englund had a great spring, but the Suns have three outfielders (Marrero, Justin Maxwell and Mike Daniel), and he wanted all four to play every day.

It is pretty common practice for organizations to be careful with pitchers less than a year removed from high school.

“Kids like that we want to protect them,” Boone said. “They have strict pitch counts, and we want to get them through this period while their young arms mature. Willems has been pretty dominant. Could he do it? No doubt in my mind.”

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