On Wednesday morning, the Washington Nationals‘ Twitter account tweeted that the team signed veteran catcher Koyie Hill to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The move isn’t that surprising as they have been on the lookout for a backup catcher all offseason.
Hill will be turning 35-years old this March and is heading into his 11th year in MLB. He’s played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins since being drafted in the fourth round in the 2000 amateur draft. He has a career batting average of .206, but hasn’t broken .200 since 2010. Last year, he appeared in just 18 games at the major league level with the Marlins, where he had a slash line of .155/.183/.190.
He’s spent parts of the last eight seasons at the triple-A level and has done well. He’s got a slash line of .268/.326/.411, but that’s nothing to brag about at that level. If he wants to be a major league player again, he’ll need to perform better than he has.
With the addition of Hill, the Nationals will now have five catchers in Florida. Along with him, Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano, Chris Snyder and Wilson Ramos will also be present. Ramos is going to be the starter, but now it is just a question of who will be his backup.
On Tuesday, I discussed seven storylines that Nationals fans should keep an eye on during Spring Training, and the backup catcher battle was one of them. At the time, it was merely a three-way battle. Now, it has turned into a four-way war for the backup spot.
However, I don’t expect Hill to really have that much of an impact on the outcome. Ultimately, I think it will come down to either Solano or Leon. Both have experience at the major league level for the Nationals and both have played well. Snyder has been nothing more than a minor leaguer for the Nationals and Hill doesn’t seem to be much more.
Solano and Leon have both made appearances as the backup in the past two years. In 2013, it was Solano that took over that role late in the season. In 12 games in 2012 as catcher, Leon bat .267 with two RBIs. Last season, Solano struggled while batting .146 throughout 24 games. While they have struggled, the additional competition of Snyder and Hill should help to elevate their game to where it could be.
They may be bringing five total catchers to Spring Training with four of them battling for the backup spot, but it will be Ramos, Solano and Leon that steal the spotlight. The addition of Hill brings in some competition, but it won’t turn out to be much more than that.