Twins weighing options in handling of Pinto
Will catcher benefit more as backup in Majors or from regular playing time at Triple-A?
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Joe Mauer announced he was moving from catcher to first base in mid-November because of concussion-related issues, it appeared to open the door for Josmil Pinto to be the club's everyday catcher moving forward.
But the Twins opted to sign veteran backstop Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal a month later to be the club's regular catcher, creating an interesting decision for the Twins about how to handle the backup catcher role this season.
The Twins have to decide whether Pinto -- who looks Major League-ready at the plate but still needs to refine his skills defensively -- is better served getting regular playing time at Triple-A Rochester or by learning on the go as Suzuki's backup in the big leagues.
Pinto is currently competing for a spot on the roster along with fellow catchers Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer, and the Twins still don't know which way they're leaning.
"The second catcher we'll discuss as we go along," assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "I don't think we've finalized it. We all have different thoughts and opinions on that. We'll sit down and figure that out at the end."
But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is among those who doesn't have any issues with Pinto sharing time with Suzuki behind the plate, even if it means Pinto won't be able to catch as much as he would at Triple-A.
"I don't have a problem with him splitting time with Suzuki -- that could be part of his development," Gardenhire said. "Learning process, catch some on the side. Match him with certain pitchers that look good when they work together. I don't have a problem with that. He can develop that way, too. He doesn't have to be an everyday guy, I wouldn't put it like that."
Pinto, 24, is making his case to head north with the club at the end of camp, as he's off to a hot start offensively this spring, hitting .444 (4-for-9) with one double and a walk in six Grapefruit League games.
It's a carryover from his impressive showing as a September callup last season, when he hit .342/.398/.566 with four homers, five doubles and 12 RBIs in 21 games. It came after the Venezuela native hit .309/.400/.482 with 15 homers and 74 RBIs in 126 games between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester last season.
"I feel good right now," Pinto said. "I'm hitting well. So I just keep working on it."
Pinto's power from the right side of the plate is something the Twins covet and need in their lefty-heavy lineup, but Gardenhire ruled out Pinto serving as a part-time designated hitter this season.
"I'm not looking for a DH candidate in a catcher, I've already been [on] that route," Gardenhire said. "I need two catchers. If I have that, then I'm going to need three catchers, and I don't want to do that."
But offense has never been the concern with Pinto, as he's still working on his game-calling, pitch-framing and overall receiving skills behind the plate. He dealt with shoulder problems that limited his throwing ability last season and lingered into the offseason but says he's healthy now. He also fared well with baserunners in his short stint with the Twins, throwing out five of 11 attempting basestealers.
Twins officials believe he has the tools to stick behind the plate, and he's been working on his defense with Twins bench coach and former big league catcher Terry Steinbach every day this spring.
"I'm getting better," Pinto said. "I'm trying to have good relationships with the umpires and all that. I'm practicing that. I've also been working with Terry Steinbach."
Gardenhire also has seen improvements from Pinto, and he will continue to monitor his progress this spring to determine whether he's better served starting out the year in the Minors or in the Majors.
"He's doing fine," Gardenhire said. "He's working with pitchers and learning some stuff. It's a work in progress as we go along here. He's getting better. He studies the game, and that's what we liked about him late in the year. So we'll see how it goes."