Flores has plenty of potential at catcher

Flores has potential to be catcher of the future

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals catcher Jesus Flores is learning on the fly about Major League Baseball. Under normal circumstances, he probably would be in Minor League camp and ticketed to Double-A Harrisburg. Flores has never played above Class A Ball.

But after being selected from the Mets in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft last December, Flores, 22, most likely will be Brian Schneider's backup behind the plate. Flores must stay with the big-league team all season or be offered back to New York. The latter is extremely doubtful.

As assistant general manager Bob Boone put it, Flores will likely be like a backup quarterback learning the system. Boone pointed out that former Reds catcher Johnny Bench and former Brewers shortstop Robin Yount came up to the big leagues as teenagers and learned on the fly. They ended up being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"It's possible to [learn on the fly], but it's hard," Boone said. "When we took Flores in the Rule 5 [Draft], we knew [he has a chance to be successful] in the big leagues. We understand it's a big jump. We also think he might be good enough living with whatever training he has to have.

"He will learn more in the big leagues. He will sit right next to Randy St. Claire and asked why a [pitcher threw a certain pitch] or about certain sequences. Brian Schneider will be right there. [Nationals catcher Robert] Fick will be sitting right there. Flores will look at big-league hitters and what they can hit and what they can't hit. So there's a lot of learning to do. He will see different players than he will see in the Minor Leagues."

Flores has already won half the battle. He is extremely confident about his abilities. He compared himself to other catchers around the league and has no doubt that he will be a success.

"I feel sure of myself that I can play in this level," Flores said. "I know that I'll be working hard to get there. I have a strong body, I can hit and I can catch. The most important part of the game right now is I have the mental part of the game."

Flores comes to the Nationals highly recommended by manager Manny Acta, Triple-A Columbus manager John Stearns and Davey Johnson, who was a consultant for the team before the trade deadline, and the Nationals have already proclaimed that Flores is their catcher of the future. The organization have been looking for a catcher of the future ever since Schneider became a regular during the second half of the 2003 season.

Flores comes with a reputation of being an above-average catcher with a great arm. He has even showed his power potential last season, hitting 21 home runs for Class A St. Lucie. He was also named to the Florida State League All-Star Game.

Washington is making sure that success continues this season. Acta purposely paired Flores with Schneider and Fick to learn the art of catching and the English language. Flores already speaks very good English, but the organization wants Flores enhance his communication skills with the pitchers.

"He is doing real good. We are getting him into a routine. He has a lot of tools," Schneider said. "Obviously, you want him to stick around me and Fick and let him know inside stuff about different pitchers or the way we do some things around here. We are making sure he is speaking as much English as possible, because you don't want him to go astray. The more he speaks English, the easier it's going to be for him, for pitchers and everything else. His English is great. We just don't want him to stray from it."

Flores has been taking English classes since his days with the Mets and agrees that communication is important between pitcher and catcher.

"The pitcher and catcher have to communicate during the game," Flores said. "That's why I've been around Schneider. I practice right next to him. I'm learning more English."

Born in Sucre, Venezuela, Flores started playing baseball when he was 6 years old. He was a third baseman for most of his formative years, but before signing a free-agent contract in with the Mets in 2002, a friend told him that he would get to the big leagues quicker if he became a catcher. Flores acknowledged that didn't have the quick reflexes to become a quality third baseman.

Flores made the move, and it turned out to be a good one, because Flores now has some lofty goals he wants to reach quickly.

"I want to stay in the big leagues for a lot of years. I want to win a championship, the World Series," he said. "It want to be one of the best catchers in the Major Leagues. I'm young and I feel I can do many things."

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