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Futures Game showcases Nats prospect

Futures Game showcases Nats prospect

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PITTSBURGH -- One wondered who would be the Nationals' starting catcher if Brian Schneider ever left via trade or free agency. In 2004, and last year, the Nationals/Expos didn't have anyone in the Minor Leagues that was close to being ready for the big show.

Washington thought Erick San Pedro would be the likely successor to Schneider, but leg and ankle injuries have stunted San Pedro's growth and he is considered no more than a backup catcher.

Starting this season, however, the Nationals' worries may be over. Salomon Manriquez, 23, has come from nowhere to become the best catcher in their Minor League system. Entering the All-Star break, the right-handed-hitting Manriquez was hitting .270 with four home runs and 22 RBIs for Double-A Harrisburg.

"I don't know when I'm going to the big leagues, but I want to try to finish strong, get better and let's see what happens. It may be next year," Manriquez said.

Manriquez's performance with the bat earned him an invitation to the 2006 XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game. He entered the game in the bottom of the fourth inning and drew a walk. Manriquez has a swing that is similar to Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez, but Manriquez is not expected to hit a lot of home runs.

"I'm pretty excited. I worked hard all of my career. I know it's not the big leagues, but it's a step closer. I feel pretty good about it, " Manriquez said about playing in the Futures Game.

While his bat is his biggest asset, Manriquez still needs to work on his skills behind the plate, such as game calling and improving his foot work. He is currently second on the team in errors with nine. But he is receiving a lot of help from his manager, John Stearns, who was a successful catcher in the big leagues.

"We have been working on my defense a lot. I can't have a better teacher," Manriquez said. "I need to work on blocking balls and my throwing. I have a lot of stuff to learn. I also work with the pitching coach and manager. When the pitching coordinator is in town, we talk a lot."

Manriquez has loved baseball ever since he was a kid growing up in Valencia, Venezuela. His heroes were Andres Galarraga, Tony Armas Sr. and Omar Vizquel, and he wanted to be a professional baseball player just like them.

As a kid, Manriquez was a first baseman/outfielder until his father, Salomon Sr., noticed that his arm wasn't strong. So the father told the son to work behind the plate. That way he could get a lot of throwing in the game, and it would help strengthen his arm.

Working behind the plate helped Manriquez get signed with the Expos on Oct. 1, 1999. But for the next five seasons, he was used only in a backup role. It wasn't until an injury to San Pedro at Class A Potomac in 2005 when Manriquez received his chance to play every day. Manriquez took advantage of the situation and hit .287 with 15 home runs and 68 RBIs.

"I just needed some people to believe in me and they gave me the opportunity," Manriquez said. "It was the chance to play every day. I never had the chance before. I started to get better and see a lot more pitches. That was the key."

Playing every day has given Manriquez a belief that he can play in the big leagues one day.

"It's extra motivation. You know they need a catcher [in the big leagues], so I want to be that guy. I'm working hard," he said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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