Israel Pineda Shows Marked Improvement
At minor league camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., catcher Israel Pineda showed just how far he's come since 2019—even without a 2020 minor league season.
“Israel Pineda has had a great camp here ever since big league camp,” Nationals farm director Mark Scialabba said. “He’s building a foundation in all phases—really learning how to work with pitchers and their strengths, calling a game and being a leader on the field.”
Pineda, a 21-year-old from Venezuela who signed for $450,000 in 2016, was a non-roster invitee to major league spring training. He left his biggest impression when he hit a 465-foot home run on one of the back fields in an intrasquad game. The blast had an exit velocity of 114 mph.
“He has impressive pull-side power,” Scialabba said. “He’s also making contact and barreling up the baseball. He’s continuing to try to build consistency from at-bat to at-bat.”
After Pineda hit .217/.278/.305 with seven home runs in 101 games at Low-A Hagerstown in 2019, he was challenged last summer by higher-level pitchers at the Nationals' alternate training site.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Pineda then went to instructional league in the fall. He went 3-for-5 in four games in big league camp this spring and had a home run off Nivaldo Rodriguez, who has major league experience with the Astros.
Though Pineda has a strong arm and has thrown out more than 40% of basestealers, he had a bat-first reputation after hitting .273/.341/.388 in 46 games at short-season Auburn in 2018.
At the plate, Pineda had trouble with breaking balls, but Scialabba says he’s developing into a catcher whose offense and defense are both positives.
“I think they're both moving in the right direction,” Scialabba said. “With him, he's really grown. He’s maturing as a person and a baseball player. He's in a good place right now.”
— Shortstop Yasel Antuña, another 21-year-old who has not played above Low-A, was having a strong minor league camp after hitting for power and average at the alternate site last year.
“He’s driving the baseball on a line and working extremely hard,” Scialabba said of the switch-hitter.
—Evan Lee, a 15th-round pick in 2018 out of Arkansas, is emerging as one of the highest-upside lefthanders in the organization.
“He has a fastball with late life that he can throw up in (the) zone,” Scialabba said.
That fastball sits at 92-96 mph. Lee also has a plus curveball, a changeup and an occasional cutter.