With Joe Mauer’s season cut short due to brain trauma, now more than ever there is discussion to moving the franchise player out from behind the plate to a “safer” position in the infield.
TwinsDaily.com’s Nick Nelson shared his thoughts and explained in detail as to why the move makes sense for 2014. The crux of Nelson’s pitch is to protect the team’s best offensive player from missing extended time from additional concussions that have been plaguing backstops this year. What makes this transition easier to accept has been the emergence of catcher Josmil Pinto, whose September performance has been tantalizing to say the least.
One aspect of his game that has been impressive is his ability to use the entire field -- particularly driving the ball the other way in big situations. On Monday night, he shot a game-winning, walk-off single into right field. On Thursday, he drove a Chris Perez offering into the seats in the overhang in right to bring the Twins within one run of the Indians.
Following the extra inning win against Detroit, manager Ron Gardenhire raved about Pinto’s short swing which allows him to wait back on off-speed pitches as well as keep us with the league’s harder throwers. “He got himself in a little bit of a hole, but he took a nice, short swing, didn't try to do too much with it and shot it the other way,” Gardenhire told reporters this week. “That's kind of ahead of your time. You don't see many young hitters being able to do those things. He's been able to do that stuff. It's been fun to watch.”
Pinto is not quite at the Joe Mauer level when it comes to exploiting the opposite field but his tendencies to go that direction demonstrate a hitter with great plate coverage and comprehension of what he should do with a pitch. In some cases, young hitters tend to become too pull heavy and are often overmatched when pitchers begin to pitch away. In discussing Chris Colabello’s opposite field leaning, Twins general manager noted that many hitting instructors value a young player’s ability to go the other way since it is a skill that is difficult to master once a hitter is set in their ways.
A source for Pinto’s pop has been the strong lower-half drive created by his pronounced leg kick. This action has been often cited as a reason why some hitters will struggle. The idea is that they have a tendency to move their weight forward early and can be fooled by offspeed stuff. So far, Pinto has not experienced this phenomenon.
Speaking to his evolution as a hitter, Pinto had showcased a more significant kick during his 2012 season with the New Britain Rock Cats. Here we see that he brings the apex of his kick almost to his waist.
Since then, Pinto has muted that movement somewhat and not raising his front leg as high.
This may have been a change instilled by a coach, instructor or possibly Pinto himself as he ascended the minor league chain and competition grew stronger and better equipped to dismantle a hitter. Either way, so far into his career, it has been working well for him. The question is, will it be something opponents can exploit?
Locally, we know that Kirby Puckett was very successful with his trademark high leg kick. Puckett, however, seemed more like the exception than the rule. Other players have had varying degrees of success with the over-exaggerated stride. As RJ Anderson pointed out at BaseballProspectus.com (subscription required) in July, the Athletics’ Josh Donaldson, who is garnering MVP consideration, struggled with the leg kick because it created a timing issue for him. Only once he was able to set his trigger properly was he able to produce at his current high level.
In regards to the methods overall acceptance, Anderson also recants hitting instruction Bobby Tewkbury’s account of why a high leg kick is not as much of a hinderance if implemented properly:
“While some people might think the bigger leg kick is too much movement, when you use it properly it actually offers a great deal of control. You obviously shouldn’t just be lunging forward, but the leg kick into the creep forward allows the hitter to be balanced on the back leg during pitch recognition. This is where I see hitters establishing good adjustability to the pitch they are facing.”
Pinto does not display the traits of someone lunging forward. Even with the high leg kick, he keeps his weight back extremely well and uses the short swing to get the bat to the ball quickly in the hitting zone. Because of his early success against off-speed pitches, one has to assume that he is recognizing pitches very well.
There will still be questions regarding Pinto’s full season abilities because his initial major league success comes in a small sample size, however, he has a strong foundation that should provide above-average production from the catcher’s spot in the future.
Rest up Joe. Josmil’s got you covered.