Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Few Minutes With Jesus Flores

Drafted in December of 2006 from The New York Mets Organization--Jesus Flores surprised and turned many a talent scout's heads in 2007. Obligated to play the entire campaign on the Major League Roster of Our Washington Nationals--or be sent back to Queens--Our Number 3 survived and surpassed expectations.

Showing a strong throwing arm, decent reflexes behind the plate, and some nice pop in the bat--Jesus Flores was one of the best finds--of any team--last season. Still just 23 Years Old--many within Washington's Organization consider him Our Catcher of The Future. But for 2008--the cards dealt his way have been against him. Once Brian Schneider was traded to The New York Mets, most fans assumed--Jesus would be bumped up to the starting role. But Our General Manager Jim Bowden and his baseball staff thought otherwise. They believe--Flores needs more seasoning. His game calling needs to improve--as well as--his batting skills against right handed pitchers. At times--Our Number 3 struggled at the plate--last year.

Having jumped from Single A Ball to Major League BaseBall in a matter of months--no one could blame him for being inconsistent. Talent only goes so far--until you know how to use it. After the signing of Paul LoDuca and Johnny Estrada to Major League Contracts to fill the shoes of Our Former Number 23--it was all but apparent that Jesus Flores would be sent to The Minors--most likely--AA Harrisburg--to groom and grow with Our Washington Nationals Top Pitching Prospects.

During our recent visit to Spring Training in Viera, Florida--I caught with Jesus Flores one day after practice. First impressions--his English has markedly improved from last season. Far better than my efforts to learn his native Spanish tongue. But, as before--this conversation is paraphrased--out of respect. It's only fair as he continues to learn the English language.

With that--here we go with A Few Minutes With Jesus Flores. You may recall that Our Number 3 was one week late for Spring Training in Viera. Jesus telling The African Queen--his B-1 Work Visa was delayed because the proper paperwork did not arrive, in a timely manner, at The United States Embassy in Venezuela.

You’ve been working out the entire time—despite your VISA Delay? (SBF)

“I know that I have missed a week—but I will be fine.”

As a Rule V Draftee—you had a strong first season in The Big Leagues. How do you feel now that The Nationals have added Paul LoDuca and Johnny Estrada? (SBF)

“They (LoDuca and Estrada) know what they are doing. But, that does not bother me. I will continue working to get where I want to be—in The Majors. Everyone is here (in camp) for a job and my focus is to leave camp as a Major League Player. I am not thinking anything else. I know that LoDuca and Estrada are All Star Caliber Catchers—and I am going to make the effort to learn as much as possible from them. Then, over time—get the job over them.”

What do you need to improve in your game? (SBF)

“Right now—I need more experience calling games and be more consistent with my hitting. I honestly believe I can improve my game and that’s what they (The Nationals) want.”

As the 2007 season advanced, you became more comfortable in your hitting. In fact, you had some important clutch Home Runs. Was that you adjusting to life in The Big Leagues--while facing better pitching than you had ever faced before? (SBF)

“Oh, for sure. When you are playing everyday and see more pitchers—you gain confidence in yourself. I had not seen many Major League quality pitchers beforehand. The more I played—the more comfortable I became. I relaxed and the results were better. I was very pleased with my work last year."

Jim Bowden and Manny Acta have probably told you that you are the Catcher of The Future for this Franchise. Does that make the pressure greater? (SBF)

“No doubt, I feel happy about it, but I can’t be sure. Baseball is a hard business. I must keep working, be healthy—so I can be behind the plate every single day.”

How important was Brian Schneider to your training last season? (SBF)

“Oh, I learned a lot of things from him. He was a good teammate and I only wish the very best for him in New York. He is a great guy. We worked as a team last year and he was a big part of my development.”

This is a really talented team this season. (SBF)

“Yes, I can see that—far different from last year. I really feel that, as a team, we are going to do really well this season.”

And you are planning on being a Major League Catcher in 2008? (SBF)

(Laughing) I hope so!! That’s what I want the most. My goal is to be a Major League Catcher—this season.”

You are not backing down to the challenge? (SBF)

“No—no way. This (playing Big League Baseball) is what it is all about!!”

And Jesus Flores has not backed down yet. Due to Johnny Estrada's lingering injury--Our Number 3 will start The 2008 Campaign wearing his customary Number 3 on Opening Night at New Nationals Park. Our Washington Nationals stating--there are no guarantees, though, Jesus will remain on The Big League Roster once Johnny is healthy. Not doubting his talent--Our Team wants Flores to play and learn the game as quickly as possible. And sitting on Our Manager Manny Acta's Bench in 2008 is not what anyone truly wants to see. Because beyond this upcoming season--Jesus Flores is expected to takeover the starting catcher's role, well after this year's stop gap fixes--Paul LoDuca and Johnny Estrada--are gone..

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