With plate appearances dwindling, Twins option Josmil Pinto to minors
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For one, the Twins have several productive hitters who aren't particularly good in the field and who will no longer have the luxury of a DH day, such as Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia. But perhaps the most significant consequence the Twins will endure while upgrading their offense is squeezing Josmil Pinto out of the lineup.
The Twins have optioned Pinto Triple-A Rochester to get more plate appearances than he would as Minnesota's benched catcher. If the choice is between Pinto never playing in the Majors or playing every day and catching in the minors, I'd choose the latter. The move means, however, that the Twins are sending out one of their best hitters. One other thing to consider is that he'll no longer be able to work on catching mechanics and throwing to bases between starts with Terry Steinbach.
(For more on Pinto's iffy glove, check out Thought No. 3 from this column.)
Pinto had been catching Sam Deduno and Kevin Correia, with the rare appearances at DH. Meanwhile, inferior hitters typically filled that role for manifold reasons, not the least of which is Ron Gardenhire's preference to keep his reserve catcher out of the DH spot in case something happens to his starter, Kurt Suzuki. In that scenario, Pinto would need to move from DH to catcher, and the Twins would lose the luxury of the DH for the rest of the game. The Twins could then call up another catcher before the next game begins.
When Suzuki caught Correia on Tuesday and Correia pitched better than he had, I couldn't help but wonder if the Twins would decide Pinto will no longer get roughly 40 percent of the team's plate appearances at catcher in the near future. Was Pinto's catching to blame for Correia's shaky starts? Probably not. But I also can't say with certainty that Pinto didn't contribute in some way to Correia's shaky starts.
Correia's start Tuesday plus signing Morales might have sealed Pinto's fate in the immediate future.
Why should we get so caught up on Pinto not playing, when he hasn't done much at the plate in May?
Let's take a look at his full body of work.
For the sake of having clean examples of his minor league production, I'll take Pinto's largest sample sizes across minor leagues levels and I won't combine levels or multiple seasons. As a 23-year-old in 2012, Pinto had 393 plate appearances at High-A, in which the catcher batted .295/.361/.473 before he was promoted to Double-A. After his promotion to New Britain in 2012, he hit even better: .298/.365/.553 in 52 plate appearances. He began 2013 at Double-A and hit exceptionally well, batting .308/.411/.482 in 453 plate appearances. He was promoted to Triple-A Rochester and soon thereafter, earned a September call up. He mashed in September for the Twins that year as a 24-year-old and looked like their catcher of the future, even though his glove clearly had a ways to go.
Since his September call up last season, including his recent slump, Pinto is hitting .265/.349/.464 with a weight on-base average of .357. Those are very good numbers for a catcher, although I remain skeptical in Pinto's ability to become adequate enough behind the plate to remain at catcher.
Still, his minor league track record and offensive production so far suggest Pinto's bat will be a staple of Twins lineups for years to come.
And this season, he's got seven home runs in just 158 plate appearances. I don't like to use 'pace' stats because they can mislead. But just to put that in context, that would give Pinto 27 home runs in 600 plate appearances, which he could get in a full season of regular playing time.
That won't happen of course, as he earned limited playing time even before the Morales acquisition and now has been sent to the minors. On one hand, it's hard to blame the Twins, considering how productive the better-fielding catcher, Suzuki, has been, and the recent addition of Morales, who is basically a DH-only hitter. On the other hand, it's fair to wonder if the team is sending one of its best hitters and a future lineup staple to the minors because they couldn't make room for his bat.
I've wondered this season if the Twins undervalue Pinto. Here's a tweet from Ben Badler, a national writer for Baseball America.
If the Twins really are demoting Josmil Pinto, some smart team should try to jump in there. Under appreciated player.— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) June 11, 2014
That would lend an entirely new meaning to the slogan #FreePinto.