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[March 31st] -- Now that we know that Wiki Gonzalez is the Nationals' backup catcher for 2006, what do we know about him? For most of the spring, we were looking at Matt LeCroy or Robert Fick to be the team's new backup catcher, and guys like Alberto Castillo, Mike DeFelice and Wiki Gonzalez went pretty much un-noticed. Now's a good time to get to know him.

It's not like Wiki Gonzalez was a high round draft pick who never panned out. Gonzalez was signed by the Pirates in 1992 as a "non-drafted" free agent [update: a reader points out rightly that players outside of the U.S. aren't eligible for the draft -- oops!]. Four years later, he was still playing 'A' ball for Pittsburgh, and was allowed to became a Rule 5 draftee of the San Diego Padres. He got his first "cup of coffee" in the majors three years later, batting .253 in 83 at bats with San Diego. He was the Padres' number two catcher the following year, batting .232 with 5 homers and 30 RBI's in 284 at bats. He retained his "backup backstop" position for two more seasons, always hitting well for a defensive catcher. Gonzalez was traded to the Mariners in 2004 as part of a six player trade that headlined Jeff Cirillo. The Mariners left him at 'AAA' Tacoma for two years before giving him a chance with the big club in late 2005 where he hit . 267 in 45 at bats. He opted to leave Seattle via the six-year minor league free agent rule, and signed with the Nationals on December 13th 2005.

Gonzalez has good power for a #2 catcher, hitting 17 homers in 801 major league at bats. He is patient and has above average speed for his position. He has a career .312 OBP and a .362 SLG average. Defensively, his short and stocky build allows him to easily block balls in the dirt. His speed (for a catcher) helps him reach more pop fouls than most catchers. His arm is above average, but nowhere near the strength of Brian Schneider.

Based on what Gonzalez can do, and what Gary Barnett did do last year, he represents a significant upgrade for the Nationals in 2006. He has a one year contract, however, and plays a position that goes through a yearly game of "musical chairs." There is always a dozen guys just like him who can be had for the same money. Though he'll help the Nationals this season, chances are, he'll be helping someone else in 2007.

The fact that he is was not drafted doesn't say anything in this case -- all international players, including Soriano & Guillen, are outside of the draft.
Here's the key stat with Wiki:

Versus Left-handed pitchers, he's hit .280 AVE; .357 on-base; .447 slugging. Those are great numbers, even if he's not going to be able to hit them when you factor in RFK's dimensions.

Just keep him away from righties, and he'll be fine. And that's where having a left-handed catcher comes in handy. He doesn't need to be platooned, but when they're facing Dontrelle, it's a perfect time for Schneider to get a deserved night off!
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