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  • Position Battle: Catcher

    When the Twins signed Kurt Suzuki back in December, it looked like they were adding a veteran backup catcher to the roster. After all, Suzuki has hit like a backup over the past four years (.650 OPS), served as a backup with two different clubs last season, and is getting paid like a backup at $2.75 million.

    However, folks around camp are talking about the new addition as essentially a lock to open the season as Minnesota's starter behind the plate. That's not entirely surprising, considering that his only real competition for the assignment is a rookie with raw receiving skills and only 40 games of experience above Double-A, but it does mean that if Pinto doesn't emerge as a capable replacement relatively early in the season, the catcher position could be a major offensive liability this year.

    I'd like to believe that Suzuki has some upside at the plate. He was a very good hitter in college, in the minors and early on his major league career. But since 2010 he has been consistently anemic with the bat, and at this point his flashes of solid production feel like distant memories.

    Suzuki is considered an asset defensively, so he ought to hold his own on that end, but if he's the regular backstop for a prolonged period, the Twins are going to be looking at a massive offensive drop-off from the position's previous tenant.

    Since improving the lineup is a high priority this year, receiving minimal output from catcher (in addition to shortstop and perhaps a couple others) would be difficult to stomach. So undoubtedly the Twins are hoping Pinto can show enough early in the season to take over the reins and provide some meaningful help with the stick.

    Early this month, Parker took a detailed look at Pinto's game, lauding the 24-year-old's ability to handle offspeed pitches and drive the ball to all fields. Pinto obviously won't replicate what Joe Mauer was able to do at the dish, but his strong marks in the minors over the past two years and his outstanding MLB debut last September are grounds for belief that he can be a quality contributor at catcher, where the average AL player hit just .246/.312/.396 in 2013.

    It's not out of the question Pinto could take the starting job right out of the gates if he tears it up over the next month, but I think it is far more likely the Twins will wait until they're fully confident he's ready for the task, offensively and especially defensively. Based on the signals they're sending, it sounds like they're not there yet -- maybe not close.

    Pinto has been labeled by some as the "favorite" to back up Suzuki but I'm skeptical the club would take away regular at-bats from a developing player, especially one with so little experience in Triple-A. Chances are that Suzuki will be backed up by Chris Hermann (who offers some platoon appeal as a lefty) or Eric Fryer, who is considered to be one of the strongest defensive backstops in the organization. It's doubtful we'll see a third catcher since Gardy no longer must juggle part-time designated hitters at the position.

    If the Twins are truly counting Suzuki as their opening day starter, Pinto has about five weeks to change their minds. And if he can't accomplish it in Ft. Myers, we'll all be crossing our fingers he can do so in Rochester, because otherwise there's little reason to have confidence in the catcher position this year.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Catcher started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 49 Comments
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Find out what the youngsters can do, that is what this year should be about. Play pinto.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      At Twins Fest, Terry Ryan was pretty much saying that Suzuki would start. I'm sure there'll be some competition. However, the fact that Pinto was shut down from Winter Ball with the shoulder issue, and that he's been slowed in the first week of spring training by back problems can't help.

      I also think that we need to temper our hopes for what Pinto can be offensively. I think he can be pretty solid. He's got a good approach at the plate. But, even if he is the catcher, the offensive production from the catcher spot will be greatly reduced.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      I don't think there's a way that Pinto starts the season with the big league ball club. TR made it pretty clear that his motorcycle man is the starter. I could see Pinto gettig called up by the end of May/June if he's whacking the heck out of the ball in AAA, but for a guy with so little seasoning at AAA, he could use the games behind the plate to work on his defensive skills before coming up to be a big league player. No need for him to be up to start the season if he's not playing everyday.
    1. Top Gun's Avatar
      Top Gun -
      Mauer has got to count as the 3rd catcher on the team. There is no reason that he can't catch a few games.
    1. BigTrane's Avatar
      BigTrane -
      "...the Twins are going to be looking at a massive offensive drop-off from the position's previous tenant."

      A little context is called for here, I think.
      1) Who, on this year's FA market for C was going to be an upgrade over Mauer?
      2) If we're hoping for an improved offensive production starting at this position, we're looking at the wrong position- there are plenty of other, better suspects.
      3) Gotta figure when the Twins actually do sign an FA, they're going to get their money's worth and play him, not sit him. Even if it is only a couple of mil.

      Best way to look at this deal is to remember it's only 1 year, and that Suzuki won't be a defensive liability. Anything he adds in terms of mentoring Pinto is a huge long-term plus.

      Put it this way: Suzuki can see the door already, no matter how much Gardy loves his bunting abilities. Suzuki is insurance against a repeat of the Hicks experience.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      I think the Twins should do whatever is best for developing Pinto. If that includes starting the season at Rochester, OK. I do think however that Pinto should get at least half a season as a starting MLB catcher allowing him to gain the necessary experience. This year is a lost cause. Hopefully the Twins do what they can so next year isn't as well.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by BigTrane View Post
      1) Who, on this year's FA market for C was going to be an upgrade over Mauer?
      No one's talking about improving the offense at catcher because you're not going to get a better hitter than Mauer. We're talking about degrees of downgrades and Suzuki is a massive one. The drop-off probably (hopefully) would not be nearly as dramatic with Pinto.

      Quote Originally Posted by BigTrane View Post
      3) Gotta figure when the Twins actually do sign an FA, they're going to get their money's worth and play him, not sit him. Even if it is only a couple of mil.
      They'd be getting their money's worth by using him as a backup. $2.75M is a veteran backup's salary.
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Top Gun View Post
      Mauer has got to count as the 3rd catcher on the team. There is no reason that he can't catch a few games.
      I can think of three reasons off the top of my head that he shouldn't catch a few games. His contract is $23,000,0000. He is easily our best offensive player and best player overall. He is one foul tip away to the head from getting another concussion and being out who knows how long. There's no point in risking that. Joe Mauer is a first baseman now.

      I wouldn't mind seeing Pinto start in AAA because I don't think he will be the starting catcher to begin the season.
    1. pierre75275's Avatar
      pierre75275 -
      I wish the Twins would have been able to pick up AJ. I understand he wants another ring and all that, but our team, defense and offense would be so much improved with him on it.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      Makes sense to me to start Pinto in AAA. Play him every day and see what how he performs.

      If Suzuki really underperforms at the plate, then you make the move and promote Pinto to starter, Suzuki to backup, and Fryer or Hermann to AAA.

      Signing Suzuki was just the right amount of insurance - cheap one year contract, gives them a proven MLB catcher, but he doesn't block anybody who might do better.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Monkeypaws View Post
      If Suzuki really underperforms at the plate, then you make the move and promote Pinto to starter, Suzuki to backup, and Fryer or Hermann to AAA.
      The question is this: what happens if Suzuki underperforms and Pinto scuffles at Triple-A? That's what really worries me about this position, and it's not exactly an unlikely scenario.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      The question is this: what happens if Suzuki underperforms and Pinto scuffles at Triple-A? That's what really worries me about this position, and it's not exactly an unlikely scenario.
      Yes, there is that possibility as well. They'd probably just suck it up with Suzuki at that point, unless Fryer can hit.
    1. Dave T's Avatar
      Dave T -
      I don't get this at all:

      "It's not out of the question Pinto could take the starting job right out of the gates if he tears it up over the next month"

      We have had catchers before whose primary contribution was with the bat. Remember Matthew LeCroy? Why are you promoting a catcher just because he can hit?
    1. Miraclemat's Avatar
      Miraclemat -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dave T View Post
      I don't get this at all:

      "It's not out of the question Pinto could take the starting job right out of the gates if he tears it up over the next month"

      We have had catchers before whose primary contribution was with the bat. Remember Matthew LeCroy? Why are you promoting a catcher just because he can hit?
      Based on last years games that Pinto had with the Twins, he 'held his own" behind the plate. Suzuki is no Butera and maybe a "slight" upgrade defensively over Pinto. If they are very similar defensively...give me the guy who you think will carry a bigger bat.
    1. UCLA_YANKEE_COLA's Avatar
      UCLA_YANKEE_COLA -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dave T View Post
      I don't get this at all:

      "It's not out of the question Pinto could take the starting job right out of the gates if he tears it up over the next month"

      We have had catchers before whose primary contribution was with the bat. Remember Matthew LeCroy? Why are you promoting a catcher just because he can hit?
      Seeing him last year and reading some scouting reports makes it pretty clear that Josmil Pinto is 10 times the defensive catcher that Matt LeCroy was. LeCroy literally made his manager cry because his defense was so bad. Seriously. I'm laughing as I type this. His defense was so bad his manager, a hall of fame bad ass, actually cried.
    1. Lonestar's Avatar
      Lonestar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Monkeypaws View Post
      Yes, there is that possibility as well. They'd probably just suck it up with Suzuki at that point, unless Fryer can hit.
      Fryer has already proven he can't hit.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I have expected them to go with a 60/40 split in playing time at catcher so I think both of them make the squad and eventually Pinto works up to starting 75% of the time.

      Suzuki imo was signed to break Pinto in slowly and provide a reasonable alternative if he flops his 1st time around. And catching 2-3 times/week is not a big issue in the development of an almost 25 yr old. But it does take the big pressure off of him.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      I have no problem if Suzuki is the man behind the plate right out of the gate. Work Pinto in, let everyone sort of settle in, keep rotating Pinto in, (maybe even a few games at DH for his bat and to keep him sharp), but slowly work Pinto in more and more as the primary.

      Suzuki is here for a reason. To bring experience and stability and some mentoring. But he's not here as a long term solution. And in this transition year, but I believe with greater potential and expectations than the past couple of seasons, it would be foolish and baseball-criminal not to go with the younger, higher potential and better bat youngster as the primary sooner rather than later. Anything else, barring injury setback, would be a waste of time.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      I'm a Pinto Fan... His defense doesn't freak me out. He'll be alright and I'm a big catcher D guy.

      I'm just in caution mode over a nice September. Parmelee had a nice September once as well. I'd like him to hit well at AAA a bit before giving him the reins.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I would have just gone with Pinto and Herrmann and been done with it.
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