As reported Thusday morning, the Minnesota Twins are struggling to come to a decision regarding Josmil Pinto’s 2014 status. Minnesota’s management staff is weighing whether or not the 25-year-old catcher would benefit more from a backup standpoint at the major league level, or from receiving consistent reps as a starter in triple-A. The real question they should be asking themselves is where to best position Pinto in the Twins’ Opening Day starting lineup.
After it was announced that Joe Mauer would be moving to first base in 2014, all signs seemed to point to Pinto taking over behind the plate for the foreseeable future. As this offseason played out, the Twins expressed interest in both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and AJ Pierzynski, but eventually agreed to sign 30-year-old Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million.
Twins GM Terry Ryan tipped his hand soon thereafter, dropping hints that the starting catching job was Suzuki’s to lose. Now, almost three weeks into Spring Training, speculation surrounding the position seems to be a mere formality. Suzuki will start Opening Day, and Pinto may not even have a place on the roster.
In 21 games with Minnesota last season, Pinto produced four home runs, 12 RBI and a .342/.398/.566 line. Currently 25 years old, Pinto has improved his offensive productivity at every baseball level he’s encountered. At 22 years old in single-A ball, Pinto put up a .261/.301/.395 line. While being promoted to double-A in 2012, he hit .295/.362/.482. After a promotion to Rochester in 2013, Pinto scorched triple-A for a .314/.333/.486 triple slash, and eventually brought the aforementioned and unbelievable productivity to Target Field. Pinto is often criticized for his defensive inabilities, but threw out an unreal 45 percent of potential base stealers and registered no pass balls in a small 2014 sample size.
A once solid all-around catcher, Suzuki’s better days are far behind him. His offensive numbers have begun to trend downward, and his .235/.290/.353 line over the past three seasons has been disappointing at best. He is highly regarded for his defensive skills and his ability to work with pitchers calling games, but his numbers might say otherwise. His career caught-stealing percentage is an average 28-percent, and in 2011 — his last full season behind home plate — Suzuki allowed 98 stolen bases, more than any other catcher in the AL. To his benefit, however, Suzuki claims a career catching ERA of 3.88, and could help bring together a new group of starting pitchers in Minnesota.
Suzuki could serve as a very valuable piece to the Twins’ hopeful 2014 run, but from the correct role. He is an excellent clubhouse leader, and brings countless hours of experience to the table. Full of useful knowledge on his defensive position, Suzuki could be the perfect backup mentor to a young talent like Pinto, who simply needs to fine tune his defensive mechanics. Pinto’s bat is ready to produce at the major league level, and Minnesota could regret denying it the chance to do so in 2014.