All-Star Catcher John Nester Returns to Railroaders
CLEBURNE, Tex. (Jan. 28, 2021) – The Cleburne Railroaders announced Thursday the signing of catcher John Nester to a contract for the 2021 season. Nester is the first player signed by the Railroaders for the 2021 campaign.
Nester returns to the Railroaders after spending the COVID-shortened 2020 season with the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The 31-year-old was selected by Winnipeg in the ninth round of the American Association Dispersal Draft, and delivered a strong season despite the Goldeyes playing each of their 60 games on the road. Nester finished the season with a .259/.321/.418 slash line, good for a .739 OPS. Nester has produced an OPS of .736 or better in all five of his seasons at the Independent level.
The right-handed hitter’s final ledger included 12 doubles, six home runs, and 31 runs driven in. He was selected as the American Association’s Batter of the Week for the week ending on August 2, following a torrid stretch in which he went 10-for-22 (.455) with six runs scored, four home runs, and 11 RBI.
Defensively, Nester’s reputation as the league’s premier backstop was further cemented with an excellent performance behind the plate. Winnipeg allowed only 28 stolen base attempts in 60 games, establishing a new American Association record for fewest attempts per game (0.47). For his career, Nester has thrown out 30% of all base-stealers, including an American Association-best 44% in 2015.
Nester also added a career-high four pitching appearances to his line, tossing four innings in relief and recording three strikeouts.
The Railroaders signed Nester as a free agent prior to the 2019 season, and he delivered a spectacular campaign that included both Midseason and Postseason All-Star selections. Despite being limited to 85 games due to injury, Nester set personal bests in doubles (23), home runs (16), runs scored (55) and RBI (63). Nester’s .847 OPS was 73 points higher than his previous career best, set back in 2015. Defensively, Nester cut down 23 opposing base stealers, second-most in the league, while committing only five errors and allowing five passed balls.
After a slow start at the dish in which Nester produced one hit in his first 18 at-bats, the veteran catcher caught fire. From June 4-17, Nester recorded multi-hit games in six of thirteen games, raising his average to .294. He smacked a pair of home runs against the Texas AirHogs on June 28, kicking off a stretch of six homers in nine days. He became the first Railroaders player to hit for the cycle on August 20 against Sioux Falls, homering in the top of the ninth inning to complete the feat.
Nester spent the majority of 2018 with the Wichita Wingnuts, hitting .269 with seven home runs and 50 RBI over 92 games for the now-defunct American Association club. He piled up 68 hits in 228 at-bats over the final 62 games, good for a robust .298 average, while slugging six of his seven home runs. The backstop finished the year with the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League, appearing in five games and recording four hits.
The 2018 campaign marked Nester’s first playing time since 2015, as the native of Greer, South Carolina spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons as a catching instructor in the San Diego Padres minor league system.
Nester started his professional career with three seasons in the Oakland Athletics organization after being drafted in the 39th round out of Clemson. He was released following the 2012 season, and spent the following year with the Evansville Otters of the Frontier League. After an impressive campaign in which he hit .287, Nester was snapped up by the San Diego Padres organization, where he split the 2014 season between three minor league levels. He signed with Wichita in 2015, helping the Wingnuts to a 59-41 record and a South Division title. The 6’1, 210-pounder played in 80 games, hitting .281 with five home runs, 19 doubles, and 43 RBI.
By Denning Gerig, Cleburne Railroaders