Player Preview: Jose Lobaton
Jose Lobaton was all but guaranteed a returning role as the Washington Nationals’ backup catcher once the Nats signed him to a one-year deal for just under $1.4 million this past December.
Known to be much more of a defensive asset rather than a contributor from the batter’s box, Lobaton made just 155 plate appearances last season, during which he recorded a .199 batting average and .279 on-base percentage. Offensively, both output and the number of opportunities afforded Lobaton have been in steady decline since 2013, a year in which he pulled a .249 batting average in 311 appearances.
But, when the Nats acquired him along with southpaw Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson in a deal that sent right-hander Nathan Karns to Tampa Bay, they praised Lobaton’s work behind the plate – namely, his ability to frame pitches and buy strikes.
Lobaton should be good at this – after all, he served as a backup to Jose Molina. But, the evidence since his arrival in the District is questionable.
Still, Lobaton represents a solid defensive option for days on which Wilson Ramos needs rest. Add to that, Lobaton isn’t afraid to encourage – if not nag – pitchers to throw strikes, as made evident in his interactions with Gio Gonzalez. Lobaton and Gonzalez seemed to find a natural rhythm together at one point, since luck of scheduling paired them up quite a bit.
And, according to the Washington Post, Lobaton has worked on another defensive area in which there is virtually always room for improvement: catching throws from the outfield. Given the varying arms that will be hurling the ball to either Ramos or Lobaton, practice isn't a bad idea.
Still, barring an injury to Ramos, Lobaton will struggle to find ample playing time – which isn’t a surprise for anyone, including Lobaton himself, who seems content in the backup role.
Perhaps more entertaining than looking out for how Lobaton delivers in front of or behind the plate this year, will be watching for his antics. Just this March, he enlisted the help of Twitter followers in naming his Maneki-neko gold cat figurine and last year, he was known for seizing opportunities in the television camera limelight – including when he sported Gatorade headphones and binoculars in the dugout.
Lobaton adds character to the clubhouse and is a decent safety net should Ramos miss any playing time this year. If Lobaton could even boost his offensive numbers just a little, the payoff could be noticeable, even if it's unlikely to make a major impact.