“I’ve really improved on my hitting."
Last November, the Nationals seized an opportunity to strengthen the team at the catcher position by signing backstop Juan Brito. The free agent had one of the biggest years of his career last year in Tucson (AAA) and is now taking his cuts in Columbus. (Free Preview!)
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Brito’s poise behind the plate and calm demeanor have helped him progress through the minor leagues during his career. Brito previously saw big league action during stints with the Kansas City Royals in 2002 and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004. The backstop hopes to make Washington his next destination and is eager to make a successful contribution to the organization.
“I feel good to be part of the Nationals organization because we are a new team pretty much,” Brito told CapitolDugout.com. “It’s a good opportunity and we’ve got a lot of young guys.”
The Dominican Republic native saw action in 11 games during spring training, and is now splitting time behind the plate with fellow Clipper Brandon Harper. Although Brito did not make the Nationals ball club, he came out of spring training with a lot of confidence, especially in his defensive abilities.
“The strong part of my game has always been my catching and my success at calling games.”
Having a knowledgeable catcher behind the plate is certainly a valuable asset when dealing with young pitchers. The Clippers have three fairly young starters in their rotation—Emiliano Fruto, Joel Hanrahan, and Felix Diaz—who will undoubtedly benefit from working with the catcher. Brito believes that these young players all have big-league talent and the potential to develop a diverse repertoire of pitches. However, he takes a simpler approach to calling a game when there is a young pitcher on the mound to make up for their lack of experience.
“Some of the guys are pretty young, but they’ve got good stuff. I try and get them to just throw pitches for strikes, focusing mainly on fastballs, and then on off-speed pitches," he explained. "I just try to help them as much as I can.”
So far this season, his approach with the younger pitchers has worked. Fruto, Hanrahan, and Diaz were all able to work through their first start without yielding a run. In addition, with Columbus now nine games into their season, the three starters all have an ERA under 3.00. Unfortunately, these stellar performances have been soured by a lack of run support.
“All the starters and relievers have been doing a really good job,” Brito said. “I think we just have to score a couple more runs and our team will be successful.”
Although Brito points to his catching abilities as the strongest part of his game, his hitting is slowly becoming equally as solid. Big league squads often have a tough time finding catchers who can couple their proficiency on defense with a big stick at the plate. Can Brito help the Nationals buck this trend? The Nationals sure hope so. If he can provide consistent offensive production in addition to his contributions as a catcher, then Brito could soon be seeing his name on the Nationals roster.
Last season in Tucson, Brito batted a career-best .296, along with 8 home runs and 43 RBIs, also career highs. Brito hopes that his time in Columbus this season will help him hone his offensive abilities even more.
“I’ve really improved on my hitting over the last couple of years. I will try to keep improving because every little bit of practice will help. I need to keep working hard, day in and day out.”
Through the first two weeks of the season, more than a handful of Columbus players have struggled at the plate, including Brito. Through Sunday, he was only batting .200, but it is still much too early in the season to put a lot of emphasis on batting averages.
Brito is not the type of player to make excuses, but he did admit that the cold temperatures that the Clippers experienced in the first two weeks have affected some of the players. The team had to withstand rain and temperatures around 40 degrees during their series last week in Indianapolis and again this weekend in Columbus.
“It’s still very early in the season, but the weather has hurt a little bit," Brito said as a reminder. "When you’re struggling and the weather is cold, it’s harder to make adjustments. But I think it will get better.”
As long as Brito continues to excel defensively and progress as a hitter, he has a great chance at joining the Nationals and making his third stop in the majors a more permanent stay. Before the game Sunday, it was obvious that he is ready to get down to business this season and utilize his time in Columbus as best he can.
“I’m just prepared to go out there and play. That’s what it’s all about.”
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