Greetings from West Palm Beach, Fla! Welcome to the Spring Training 2023 edition of the Nationals Beat newsletter. This is your stop for the latest on and off the field, from news to exclusive player interviews and insights brought to you by MLB.com club reporter Jessica Camerato. For more behind the scenes photos and videos, follow along on Instagram and IG stories.
The doors to the interview room in the Nationals’ training complex swung open and players began to file in. Luis García and Ildemaro Vargas arrived with catching and strategy coach Henry Blanco, followed by Riley Adams, MacKenzie Gore and Trevor Williams. Teammates, coaching staff and members of the front office gathered behind a group of reporters awaiting the arrival of Keibert Ruiz.
A player who does not seek the spotlight, Ruiz was at center stage on Saturday after signing an eight-year contract with the Nationals and establishing his role as their catcher of the future.
Ruiz prefers to let his game do the talking, but his teammates enthusiastically shared what he brings to the club and means to the organization.
INF Ildemaro Vargas: “It is very important for Latinos and Venezuelans to look at the success and the work that Keibert has had in his career. I feel happy for him because he deserves it. He is very, very important. He already is a young leader. The catcher is the most difficult position because being a catcher on a team with young players who are going to be part of the future, your leader is very important.”
RHP Josiah Gray: “It’s awesome. The kid deserves it. I think we all see how hard he’s worked, how good he is with the media, how good he is with us in the clubhouse. I’m really happy for him. … We all see the more leadership he’s taken on this year. I kind of want to do that as well, so I’m going to follow his footsteps a little bit on that. He’s calm, he’s collected, he tries to get the best out of you as a pitcher. I’m sure with the hitters, he’s analyzing at-bats with them as well. He’s just a really good clubhouse guy, a really good player. It’s going to be a lot of fun playing with him for a long time.”
LHP MacKenzie Gore: “I’m super happy for him and his family. I’m looking forward to continuing to build our relationship. … It’s great [knowing who the catcher will be long-term]. It’s always nice to have that guy by you for a long time. … We’re on the same page. He’s a great player and he’s just going to keep getting better.”
2B Luis García: “It was good [to attend his press conference] because he is a good guy who always gives support. It was an important moment for him and for his career. … He is one of our leaders and our catcher, one of the most difficult and important positions. He means a lot to us.”
C Riley Adams: “He’s just been great. I love bouncing ideas off him, talking about the pitching staff, talking about everything, watching him work in the cages. He’s a special player. He does a lot of cool things. I like watching his intensity. It’s fun seeing how he was when he first got here versus where he’s at now from a leadership standpoint. The way he takes control of things out there, it’s definitely something I look up to. We’re both kind of figuring it out together, and I love that I know he’s got my back and I’ve got his.”
RHP Paolo Espino: “When he got traded over here, everybody knew how important he was going to be for this organization. A young talent, he’s getting to know everybody and it’s going to be really, really nice for the future, for the team. I also know how important it was for him to sign. I’m very happy for him. I’ve gotten to know him, and he’s a really, really great kid.”
LHP Patrick Corbin: “He’s a big part of this team, and now he’s going to be here for a while. So I’m excited for that and always happy for someone to have that comfort. … He’s willing to learn, and catching is just about getting back there every day and learning from it. He’s a great player. He has everything to be great.”
RHP Trevor Williams: “That’s something that’s going to be really huge for him and his family -- to see how happy he was to do that, and then also to hear him say that he wants to take the helm and take the level as a teammate and as the backstop of the Nationals for the next eight years. I love seeing guys happy, and I like being in rooms when you can see that. I think it’s a great thing for the organization, and I’ve been nothing but impressed with him.”
Ruiz played which positions before becoming a catcher?
B.) First base
In his two months in the Major Leagues last season, Joey Meneses gave a preview of what he can do at the plate at the highest level. This month, he is sharing that on a global stage. Meneses crushed not one, but two home runs on Sunday in Team Mexico’s win over Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. The following morning, the Nationals clubhouse was abuzz with excitement over his performance.
On that topic, I am excited to share I will be covering the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of the WBC. Stay tuned for coverage from Miami, and I will share some sights and scenes in next week’s newsletter.
C and D
Read more on how Ruiz began playing baseball as a shortstop and an outfielder.
Dominic Smith visited last week with the Marjorie S. Fisher Boys & Girls Club of West Palm Beach, Fla. In addition to participating in baseball activities, Smith also distributed free tickets to home Spring Training games. He was joined by Screech the mascot for the afternoon.
See which former Nationals players are celebrating birthdays this week (March 14-20). The seasons during which they played with Washington are noted in parentheses.
● March 16: Spencer Kieboom, 32 (2016, ‘18); Michael Blazek, 34 (2019); Stephen Drew, 40 (2016-17)
● March 18: Chad Cordero, 41 (2005-08); Terrmel Sledge, 46 (2005); Tomo Ohka, 47 (2005)
• March 21: World Baseball Classic finals
• March 26: Grapefruit League finale at Marlins
• March 28: Exhibition game vs. Yankees
• March 30: Opening Day vs. Braves; City Connect t-shirt giveaway (first 20,000 fans in attendance)
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