Pinto's catching, not bat, might be key to sticking
Roughly 20 minutes after Josmil Pinto smashed batting-practice baseballs onto a neighboring practice field Tuesday, his manager expressed understandable hope that the Venezuelan catcher earns a roster spot. But that figures to come down to his glove, not his bat.
"That's going to be an interesting competition," Paul Molitor said of the battle to back up Kurt Suzuki. "Do you want the guy who is going to be your best defender for 30-40 games, or do you want to have the offense, and hopefully have enough defense? I'm open-minded."
Pinto, who turns 26 a week before the season opens, electrified the Twins by batting .342 as a September call-up two seasons ago. But complaints about Pinto's defense grew incessant in 2014, and he turned in a disappointing .219 rookie season in 57 games. The decline, and especially his failure to throw out any of the 20 base stealers who ran on him, got Pinto labeled a liability. But Molitor said he believes Pinto isn't as bad behind the plate as his 2014 season makes it appear.
"I saw him vastly improve when he was with [manager] Jeff Smith in Double-A," Molitor said. But last season, "it was like a hitter going into a slump. He was unsuccessful a couple of times, so you try to get quicker and your arm slot changes. There were a couple of times he came out for early work, which is a good thing, but he had trouble with his accuracy. So it got a little mental for him."
The Twins have a crop of catchers working through their system, such as Stuart Turner and Mitch Garver, but they are a couple of years away. The primary option to Pinto this year is Eric Fryer, who hit .213 in 33 games a year ago, or Dan Rohlfing, who batted .205 at Class AAA Rochester.
Classic rock, the likes of Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, Don McLean and Janis Joplin, played in the Twins' clubhouse before Tuesday's workout. "That was pretty good this morning," the 58-year-old Molitor said. "Let's hope it's a trend."
It might have amounted to a culture change, too. In recent years, young players have cranked more current music in the clubhouse, some of it with explicit lyrics, and Molitor noticed. He wouldn't say whether he ordered Tuesday's playlist, but made it clear how he feels about it. "I'm not going to get crazy about the music, but when you're walking around [the clubhouse] before the game sometimes, it makes you shake your head a little bit," the manager said. "We don't want to disrespect people."
2014 stats: .249 with seven home runs and 40 RBI in 93 games at Class A Fort Myers
Acquired: Drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft
Role: Likely the starting catcher for Class AA Chattanooga
Did you know? If Turner, a native of Eunice, La., reaches the major leagues with Minnesota, he would become the fourth University of Mississippi alumnus to play for the Twins in the past decade, joining Matt Tolbert, Matt Maloney and Alex Presley.
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