Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 10, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 10! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (5-2 last week, 38-24 overall) → Like their Bay Area mates the Giants, Oakland are lapping the field in terms of run differential (their mark of +118 is more than double the next best team, the Blue Jays). Unlike San Francisco however, the rest of their division is looking pretty frisky too, with only the Astros rocking a losing record amongst the other four AL West teams. They might well be the best team in the AL, but the A’s are going to have to be on their game all year long to stay at the summit of their own division with such stellar competition.
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-1, 38-25) ↑ As a starter, Marcus Stroman has pitched 12 innings of 1.50 ERA ball, walking two while striking out 13. As a reliever, he was rocked for 9 earned runs in just 6.1 innings, and had a 2.21 WHIP. A small sample size admittedly, but lets keep handing Stroman the ball to start games, rather than finish them, eh Mr. Gibbons?
- Detroit Tigers (2-4, 33-25) ↓ Three weeks ago, the Tigers looked like they were pulling away from the rest of the AL Central. Having just swept the Red Sox in a three-game series at Fenway Park, getting some measure of revenge for the 2013 ALCS, they stood seven games clear in the division, at 27-12. Since then however, Detroit has gone 6-13, and seen their division lead cut back down to 4. Surprisingly at the forefront of the Tigers’ struggles is their usually dominant pitching; Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have both been excellent, and Rick Porcello his steady self, but Drew Smyly has failed to live up to expectations since being promoted to the rotation in place of the departed Doug Fister, and Justin Verlander looks to be a shell of his former self. Remember the panic this time last year when the 2011 AL MVP had a 3.71 ERA after 13 starts? Well this year, he’s gotten off to an even worse start – through 13 starts, he has a 4.19 ERA, a heightened walk rate (3.7 BB/9 compared to a career mark of 2.8, and a 2.0 figure in that career 2011 season), and is displaying a diminished strikeout rate (just 6.4 k/9 after averaging 9.0 over the prior four seasons). In return for collecting $20 million in salary this year, Verlander has been distinctly average, as proven by his 101 ERA+. Of course, Verlander rebounded in the second half last season, and might still be getting back into the swing of things after offseason core surgery, but at 31 years old, and owed $28 million per season for the next five years, I’d say there’s significant cause for concern amongst Tigers fans.
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 33-28) →
- Baltimore Orioles (4-2, 31-29) ↑
- Seattle Mariners (4-1, 32-29) ↑
- New York Yankees (2-5, 31-30) ↓ New York’s record in games in which Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t pitched you ask? 21-28. First on the list of pointers for improvement, stop playing Brendan Ryan at first base while riding with Derek Jeter at shortstop! If you couldn’t tell, this drives me insane.
- Chicago White Sox (3-3, 31-32) ↑ Just as I was about ready to gush about how amazing Chris Sale had been of late, Mike Trout happened. Oh well. Prior to the eighth inning last night, Sale had allowed just 5 hits in 31 innings, a mere 7 to the last 107 batters he had faced, and owned a 0.72 ERA over his last four starts. Of course, after 93 pitches and seven scoreless innings last night, aided by an error, he allowed all five Angels he faced in the bottom of the eight to score, as L.A. erased a 5-0 deficit in the blink of an eye. Still, as of right now, I’m of the belief that the man known as ‘The Condor’ is the best pitcher in the AL. Mike Trout is the Most Valuable Horse after all.
- Cleveland Indians (5-1, 31-31) ↑ In his second game back off the 7-day concussion DL, Carlos Santana yesterday went 2-2, with 2 walks, a home run and a single, lifting the Tribe to an 8-3 win over the Rangers. No more games behind the plate for Mr. Santana methinks…
- Boston Red Sox (1-5, 27-34) ↓ They lose 10 in a row. They win 7 in a row. They lose 6 in a row. Why Boston, must you make it so incredibly difficult for me to rank you?!
- Texas Rangers (3-3, 31-31) ↓ Just hours after Kendrys Morales, you know, a designated hitter/first baseman type, signed with the Twins, Mitch Moreland, you know, Texas’ designated hitter/first baseman type, who had replaced Prince Fielder, you know, the Rangers’ presumed first baseman/designate hitter type after he went down with injury, was announced to be in need of reconstructive ankle surgery, and out for the next three months. The Rangers now have made 19 DL moves this season. No other team has made more than 12.
- Kansas City Royals (4-3, 30-32) ↓ Eric Hosmer home run alert! I repeat, Eric Hosmer home run alert!
- Minnesota Twins → (4-3, 29-31) The Twins came out of nowhere yesterday to ink Kendrys Morales to a one-year deal, thought to be “in the ballpark” of the $10 million contract that Stephen Drew signed with the Red Sox in May. After the 30-year-old hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs with Seattle last season, he’ll likely slot into the DH spot which has preeminently been manned by Josmil Pinto (19 GP) this year. Jason Kubel was designated for assignment in a corresponding roster move.
- Tampa Bay Rays (1-6, 24-39) → The Rays are holding on to 14th place in these rankings by the skin of their teeth, probably because I still can’t comprehend fully how they are three games back of the Astros. Seriously, I look at the standings and think it’s a mistake. Things have got to a point with the Rays however, where Joe Maddon‘s optimistic tweets, have got about as much baloney to them as the sandwiches he makes in the clubhouse.
- Houston Astros (3-3, 27-36) → Not a bad way to get your first hit Jon Singleton.
Throughout the season (minus last week, when I was vacationing at Safeco Field), I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 9, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 9! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (7-6 over the last fortnight, 33-22 overall) ↑ With a run differential of +112, the A’s are lapping the rest of the American League; the four other teams who can boast a positive differential – Detroit, Toronto, LA, and Seattle (Seattle?!) – when combined, have a +98 mark. I would highlight a single player, Josh Donaldson for example, and point to their individual success as fuel to the team’s fire, but everyone – Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, even Kyle Blanks since being acquired from the Padres – has been getting it done of late. As usual, the A’s are winning without runaway star contributors, and as usual, no one is batting an eyelid.
- Detroit Tigers (5-9, 31-21) ↓
- Toronto Blue Jays (10-3, 33-24) ↑ Speaking of turning heads, I present the Toronto Blue Jays, and most particularly, Edwin Encarnacion, in the month of May. Perhaps inspired by the Raptors’ #WeTheNorth campaign, The Jays turned up in a big way over the past 31 days, going 21-9 in that span, including a 9-game stretch in which they consecutively swept Boston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. Plenty has been made of Encarnacion, who in tying Mickey Mantle for the most home runs in the month of May by an AL player launched balls over a mile and a quarter, and the rest of the powerful Toronto offense (they’ve failed to hit a long ball in just two games over the past fortnight), but it will be pitching that will keep the Jays at the AL East summit. Even with Mark Buehrle continuing to defy the advanced metrics, and top prospect Marcus Stroman living up to the hype in his first start (the diminutive righty held the Royals to one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts over six innings yesterday), the club remain linked to Jeff Samardzija. One of just two teams not to make the postseason this millennium, and considering the current state of the AL East, pushing all their chips into middle by trading for Samardzija, might not be a bad idea for team GM Alex Anthopolous.
- Los Angeles Angels (7-6, 30-25) ↓ Mike Trout is out of the lineup today with back stiffness. Along with his OPS dropping to ‘just’ .929 this year, I’m beginning to think that maybe he isn’t a cyborg solely designed to break baseball records anymore, and might even have some human flaws.
- New York Yankees (7-6, 29-25) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-8, 27-27) ↓ Nelson Cruz is being paid $8 million this year. Nelson Cruz has 20 home runs, a 186 OPS+, and a 2.2 WAR value. It’s the first day of June.
- Seattle Mariners (7-6, 27-28) ↑ After my Memorial Day visit, I officially love Safeco Field, which was made even better by the Mariners soundly beating the Angels. Seeing Chris Young throw five innings of no-hit ball was definitely unexpected, as was my mother taking a liking to Justin Smoak simply because of his name. The Mariners, even slow-footed Robinson Cano, victimizing poor Hank Conger on the basepaths for three stolen bases in one inning was pretty darn entertaining too.
- Boston Red Sox (6-7, 26-29) ↓ After enduring a brutal 10-game losing streak, the Red Sox have now amassed a six-game winning streak. In between a pair of walk-off wins, the continued war of words between David Ortiz and David Price, and Clay Buchholz‘s struggles though, perhaps most notably, some of the kids that Boston placed so much emphasis on prior to the season have finally started coming through; since the start of that dreadful losing streak, Xander Bogaerts has stormed his way to a .397/.465/.603 line, and Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in the Dodgers dump, impressively fired seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball yesterday, striking out 8 Rays along the way. Now, if only the Sox could get Jackie Bradley Jr. to improve his ghastly 66 OPS+ too…
- Texas Rangers (8-5, 28-28) ↑
- Chicago White Sox (7-6, 28-29) ↑
- Kansas City Royals (5-8, 26-29) ↓ Reading Rany Jazayerli’s Twitter rants, whether they be concerning Ned Yost‘s latest gaffe, Dayton Moore’s continued incompetence, Kansas City’s punchless offense, another hitting coach being fired, potential James Shields trades, or Mike Moustakas‘ quick demotion/promotion swing, never gets old. Being a fan of the Royals must get stale pretty quickly I’m guessing.
- Cleveland Indians (7-6, 26-30) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (4-8, 25-28) ↓ Struggling center fielder Aaron Hicks has abandoned switch-hitting, and will now bat exclusively from the right side. Sounds like a good idea in theory considering his awful offensive production, minus the fact that Hicks has actually been substantially better from the left side so far this year; the 24-year-old has a .250/.400/.325 line as a southpaw in 2014, compared to a brutal .154/.280/.205 line as a righty. The Byron Buxton Era can’t come soon enough up at Target Field.
- Tampa Bay Rays (4-8, 23-33) ↓ Does much more need to be said? I suppose it could be mentioned that Tampa are in the midst of a 5-game tailspin, and Wil Myers is now on the disabled list too.
- Houston Astros (9-5, 24-33) → Naturally, in the time I was on vacation, and thus not paying attention to my fantasy baseball teams, George Springer went off while slotted in one of my bench spots. In that May 24th to 29th span, in 34 plate appearances Springer had 6 home runs, walked more often than he struck out (5BBs to 4Ks), possessed a .417 average, and accrued a ridiculous 1.767 OPS mark. Even more ludicrously, the Astros went 6-0 and are now no longer the worst team (by record anyway) in the American League. Now excuse me while I go light myself on fire…
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 7, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 7! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-1 last week, 26-12 overall) → Over their last 17 games, the Tigers have just 3 losses, and have swept away both their closest AL Central challenger (Kansas City), and the AL East leader (Baltimore). If they extend their winning streak to six tonight at Fenway Park, you can add the defending World Series champions Boston to that list too. Cleveland and Texas better look out this week, because Detroit are rolling…
- Oakland Athletics (5-1, 27-16) → … as are the Athletics, who have now won 8 of their last 9, outscoring their opponents 58-15 during that time. 58-15! Given how they’re an unglamorous team that plays in a sewer bowl though, no one is watching the Athletics no matter how good they’ve been of late – only 10,120 fans went to their Monday game at O.co Coliseum against the White Sox. At least they’ll be used to a lack of crowd noise for when they travel to play in front of empty seats at Tampa Bay this week.
- Los Angeles Angels (5-2, 23-19) ↑ Mike Trout is ‘struggling’ in May, not that it stopped him from hitting a three-run, walk-off home run against the Rays, or 41,959 fans (including over 4000 from his hometown of Millville, NJ) coming out to see him in his first trip back to Philadelphia. He’s still second in the AL WAR standings too, with 2.8, trailing only Josh Donaldson (3.3), and remains on pace for a career high value. Must be real hard being Mike Trout right now eh?
- Baltimore Orioles (2-5, 22-19) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 22-19) → Masahiro Tanaka notched his first shutout in the US on Wednesday against the Mets, and in the process moved to 30-0 since the beginning of 2013. That $155 million contract that Brian Cashman handed out to the 25-year-old Tanaka is looking like more and more of a steal with every start he makes.
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 23-21) ↑ Hands up if you had Drew Hutchison throwing a three-hit shutout and out dueling Yu Darvish on Friday night? Liars… In other news, after injury marred 2012 and 2013 seasons, Jose Bautista appears to be back in vintage form. His .998 OPS thus far is actually marginally better than his 2010 mark, a season in which he famously hit 54 home runs, though he still has a little way to go to match his 2011 total (1.055). Either way, along with Edwin Encarnacion, a healthy Bautista gives Toronto one of the most fearsome middle-order duos in all of baseball – which should help whenever Hutchison’s deal with the baseball Gods expires.
- Boston Red Sox (2-4, 20-22) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (4-2, 21-21) ↑ Mike Moustakas apparently didn’t appreciate all the speculation regarding whether he should be demoted – if you haven’t yet heard the audio from his post game ‘interview’ after Wednesday’s game, I’d recommend giving Buster Olney’s Baseball Tonight podcast from Friday a listen (skip to the end for Moustakas’ incredibly childish non-response to questions). I’d have sent him down just for that.
- Seattle Mariners (1-5, 20-22) ↓ Is it selfish for me to be praying that Seattle somehow have their schedule messed up a bit this week so that either King Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma gets pushed into starting against the Angels on Memorial Day? Otherwise it looks like I’ll be watching Chris Young pitch when I venture north to visit Safeco Field.
- Minnesota Twins (5-1, 21-20) ↑ After surprisingly jacking seven home runs and stealing seven bases during April, I can’t say I was expected Brian Dozier to get better. But improve even further he has, pasting a further 4 long balls and pilfering another 6 bags so far in May, and batting .318/.420/.545 after an April in which he hit just .226. Factor in his tremendous defense at second base, and fellow keystoner Jason Kipnis‘ 2014 campaign being limited by injury thus far, and Dozier may well find himself playing an additional game at Target Field later this summer.
- Tampa Bay Rays (3-4, 19-25) →
- Chicago White Sox (2-4, 21-23) ↑ Jose Abreu hits the disabled list with tendinitis in his left ankle, as some evil genius out there strives to take away every exciting young player in baseball during half a season.
- Texas Rangers (1-5, 20-23) ↓ After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.42 ERA, including a pair of 3-hit shutouts, it did seem odd that Martin Perez would suddenly allow 19 runs in the 13 1/3 innings that constituted his next three starts – almost as weird as how the San Diego Padres could abruptly pepper Jose Fernandez. Well, like Fernandez, an MRI showed that Texas’ 23-year-old sophomore also has a torn UCL, and will require Tommy John surgery. The season-ending procedure will be administered this Monday by team physician Dr. Keith Meister. In another devastating blow to the Ranger’s rotation, Matt Harrison may require career-threatening spinal-fusion surgery. After being limited by injury to just six starts over the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined, it unfortunately seems that we’ve likely seen the last of Harrison on the mound. Throw in Prince Fielder needing a nerve-root injection yesterday due to a herniated disk in his neck (ending his consecutive games streak at 547), and the deluge of injuries that first began in Spring Training has officially drowned Texas’ chances in 2014. A lost season if there ever was one, and it’s only May 18th – sorry Rangers fans.
- Cleveland Indians (2-4, 19-24) ↓ From jumping three levels of the Indians organization in 2013 and pitching in the Wild-Card game, to surrendering a a 5.53 ERA and barely lasting five innings a start to begin 2014, the Danny Salazar rollercoaster ride continued on this week with the 24-year-old being sent back to Triple-A Columbus. On the plus side of things, his demotion will mean we should get to see Trevor Bauer again this week, who has gone 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in his seven starts so far down at Columbus. He’s slated to square off against Justin Verlander and Detroit on Tuesday though, so it won’t exactly be a cushy re-introduction back into major league competition.
- Houston Astros (4-2, 15-28) → Are my eyes deceiving me? Did the Astros just have a winning week? You betcha!
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 6, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 6! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-2 last week, 22-11 overall) → For the season, Victor Martinez has 8 home runs, 7 intentional walks, and just 5 strikeouts. Before Monday’s game against Houston, he’d gone 154 games without being called out on strikes (his streak went back to May 21st of last year, with Jarred Cosart finally getting him with a 94-mph fastball). That’s ridiculous. AT 35-years-old, V-Mart’s now batting .328/.381/.588, making his free-agency at the end of the year all the more interesting. The Tigers meanwhile, after facing a creampuff schedule last week, will be tested more sternly in the next seven days with trips to first Baltimore, and then Boston on the docket.
- Oakland Athletics (4-3, 22-15) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-1, 20-14) ↑ A great week on the field for the Birds was only marred by the ongoing Matt Wieters injury saga. While it at first appeared they dodged a bullet when it was cleared up that Wieters would not need Tommy John to cure his right elbow ailment (the track history of the surgery on catchers is brutal), just maybe some rest days at DH rather than behind the plate, the 27-year-old was this morning placed on the DL. Perhaps it was due to him going 1-13 in his four games as the DH, a move which forced Nelson Cruz to play the field, but losing Wieters’ production at the dish (.308/.339/.500, 130 OPS+) for any longer than the 15 days his stint mandates will be a huge blow to Baltimore. The return of Chris Davis to the lineup today however (he’d been out with a strained oblique), should go some way to mask the loss of their All-Star catcher.
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 18-17) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 19-16) → After being taken deep 3 times during his 5.1 innings against his former team Milwaukee yesterday, C.C. Sabathia was today banished to the DL with a mysterious ‘fluid in his right knee’ problem. The injury seems a little odd given how a MRI showed no meniscus tear (and Sabathia’s incredible weight loss), but if some rest gets him back on track, it will be well worth it for New York. In the meantime, their rotation is paper-thin all of a sudden; behind the excellent Masahiro Tanaka, with Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova out, Alfredo Aceves, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno have all been pushed into starting roles. Such rough starting pitching isn’t going to cut it for long in the AL East.
- Boston Red Sox (3-2, 18-18) →
- Texas Rangers (3-4, 19-18) → Despite their winning record, Texas have the second worst run differential among Junior circuit teams (-25), and lousy playoff odds (19.1%, 4th worst in the AL). Yu Darvish‘s one hitter was pretty darn impressive mind you, blown call and all.
- Seattle Mariners (6-2, 19-17) ↑
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 18-19) ↑ After missing the first six weeks of the season due to a back injury that he originally suffered at the end of spring training, 32-year-old closer Casey Janssen was activated from the DL today. Hopefully for those north of the border, he’ll shore up the Toronto relief corps – entering Sunday, the pull pen had the fourth highest ERA in the majors, with a mark of 4.77.
- Kansas City Royals (3-4, 17-19) ↓ That the Royals are even close to .500 speaks to their crappy division and solid pitching, because their offense is truly abysmal. Twice in their last three games, they’ve scratched just four hits, shutout on Thursday by the combination of Hisashi Iwakuma and Fernando Rodney, and limited to just one run by Chris Young yesterday. Chris Young!
- Tampa Bay Rays ↓ (2-4, 16-21) For a team that prized itself on its organizational depth, and for years brought up non-heralded pitching prospects who achieved instant success, Tampa Bay are really struggling for decent innings right now.
With Matt Moore and Alex Cobb out, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer underwhelming, and David Price somewhat languishing, the Rays have only got 12 quality starts so far in 2014 – 28th in the majors. If things don’t pick up soon, which seems unlikely considering their tough upcoming schedule, the Rays are at risk of falling even further down these rankings.
- Cleveland Indians (4-3, 17-20) ↓ John Axford was removed as closer after Friday’s blowup in a move which came about a month later than I originally expected. On the bright side of things, Asdrubal Cabrera had himself an encouraging week, batting .321 over the last week – all nine hits coming in a three-game span. With Francisco Lindor presumably on track to take over the shortstop job next year, would it be a surprise to see Cabrera moved at some point this summer if he keeps on hitting? Does anyone even care about baseball in Cleveland anymore now they have Jonny Football?!
- Chicago White Sox (5-5, 19-19) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (3-4, 16-19) ↓ In absolutely terrifying news, top prospect Byron Buxton is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on his left wrist in the next few days after reinjuring it on a slide on Thursday. Considering the blah season the Twins are currently enduring, anymore bad news about their vaunted corral of prospects (Miguel Sano is already out having had TJ surgery remember) might just turn Minnesotans off baseball for the rest of the year.
- Houston Astros (1-6, 11-26) → Picking no. 1 overall in the upcoming draft is becoming more of an advantage by the day it seems; what with top amateur prospect Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina RHP) needing Tommy John surgery and UNC working LHP Carlos Rodon to disgusting pitch counts (former Tar Heel Matt Harvey‘s opinion on their ethics might be interesting), the number of potential top picks is dwindling. Unfortunately for fans of the rebuilding Astro’s though, Houston are on pace for their fourth consecutive 100-loss season and worst record yet. Even the promise of the first two #SpringerDingers of the year can’t mask the fact that Jeff Luhnow’s experimental tear-down job is taking a lot longer than originally thought.
We’re on the home stretch; it’s Day 24 – the 80% mark – of my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series, and today I round out my AL Central coverage by looking at the Minnesota Twins. Having yesterday called a breakout performance from Kole Calhoun given his new role as the Angels’ everyday right fielder, I am once again focusing on a player who could shine if given the appropriate chance. After a flash of his offensive potential in September, and the cautionary move of incumbent catcher Joe Mauer to first base, Josmil Pinto should this year get his opportunity to shine.
As Aaron Gleeman prefaced in his Twins essay for the 2014 Baseball Prospectus Annual, “Prospect lists are considered pornography in the state of Minnesota.” Everyone knows the names by now; Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer, Kohl Stewart, the list goes on – together, the jewels of Minnesota’s stacked farm system are expected to be the backbone of the next great Twins team, a group capable of dominating the AL Central for years upon years. Such a possibility doesn’t seem too unrealistic either at this point, making it easy for Minnesota fans to largely ignore whatever happens in 2014 and simply dream of the future. They might want to pay attention however, to one of the less heralded products of their minor league system; after making his MLB debut last September, Josmil Pinto will be competing in Spring Training to fill the recently-vacated position of Joe Mauer as the Twins’ Opening Day catcher.
At 5’11 and 210 pounds (he has apparently “packed on 15 to 20 pounds of muscle this offseason” as if to provide a perfect #MuscleWatch example), Pinto possesses the prototypical stocky build of a catcher. Signed by Minnesota as a 16 year old way back in 2006 however, the native Venezuelan only began playing full-season ball in 2010, and attracted little attention from prospect aficionados until his breakout 2013 season ( this despite his being added to the Twins 40-man roster after the 2012 season in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft). Considered by scouts to be little more than organizational filler prior to last year, Pinto proceeded to hit .309/.400/.482 across Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester, bashing 48 XBH (including a career high 15 HRs) in 128 games while also displaying a patient offensive approach that belied his youthful power (66 BBs to 83 SOs). While his production was still dimmed by the numbers of Buxton, Sano, and alike, the Twins saw fit to give him an opportunity at the top level; called up to cover for (you guessed it) an injured Mauer on September 1st, Pinto immediately set about staking a claim for the full-time job, batting .342 over 83 PAs, and continuing to show off his power potential with 5 2Bs and 4 HRs.
With Mauer’s injury struggles officially forcing him to first base this past offseason, it appeared Pinto’s offensive display had done enough to secure the role of everyday catcher going forward. What may hold him back, at least to start the season, is not his bat but glove; though he still represents an considerable upgrade from the since-released Ryan Doumit, the 24 year old profiles as only a passable receiver (at best) for the moment, and will now face competition from the freshly signed Kurt Suzuki in camp. Though he has the arm to deter runners – he threw out 5/11 base stealers in his September cameo with the Twins – there is still work to be done on his mechanics and game calling, presenting Minnesota management with a dilemma; as ESPN’s Keith Law wrote, “The Twins will face a tough decision this year on how to work Pinto into the major league lineup; he needs to catch every day to improve his receiving — and he’d probably be better off doing that in Triple-A — but he’s also their best candidate to give them some offense behind the plate.”
Sending Pinto back to Rochester for a spell however, or even placing him in a significant time share with Suzuki, makes little sense for a Twins team focused on the future. While the veteran catcher is a fine placeholder, he shouldn’t be taking valuable reps away from the youngster’s development, his replacement level production something the aforementioned Gleeman recently pointed out: “in the past three seasons Suzuki hit .235/.290/.353 while throwing out just 25 percent of stolen base attempts and rating very poorly in pitch-framing analysis. Suzuki hasn’t been a starting-caliber catcher since 2009”. With the Twins rightly waiting for the cavalry to arrive before truly launching their attack on the AL Central, there seems to be little reason to not get the offensively-ready Pinto additional majors experience in the meantime, and see if he can become an at least average defender, rather than wasting his bat down in the minors.
The battle to be Minny’s starter may simply come down to who plays better in Spring Training (though Pinto has already begun inauspiciously by sitting out the last few days with a back injury). He doesn’t need to be a Molina brother behind the plate, but if Pinto can show just a few signs of progress, Twins GM Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire should give him the chance to shine – and improve some more – everyday. Heck knows, he won’t have the attention as their top rookie for long.