In both cases, teams are giving opportunity to evaluate younger, inexperienced players to often face other younger, inexperienced players. Have a big Grapefruit League performance, like outfielder Aaron Hicks, and suddenly you may find yourself with a starting position in April. Similarly, have a big September call-up performance, as Chris Parmelee did in 2011, and the following year you may be at the top of the depth chart. Success (or failure) in these environments can cause even the best evaluators to make ill-advised decisions.
Former manager Bobby Valentine had been vocal about avoiding evaluating players based on September play. As did former Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who scoffed at the idea of evaluating players on a twenty-two game sample in 2011. Twins general manager Terry Ryan, a former scout himself who has seen plenty of September baseball, agreed.
“I’m not so sure you can’t equate it to success or failure,” Ryan said recently in terms of evaluating his call-ups performance in the season’s final month. There are players who will excel and those who tank miserably, and this sampling should not be reflective of their long-term expectations.
Even so, it is hard not to want to embrace players like catcher Josmil Pinto.
Much like Parmelee did in 2011, Pinto has grabbed the remaining Twins fans’ attention by hitting 13-for-23 (.565) with six extra base hits over his first seven games. Since 1980, only Jay Bruce (.577) had a better start to his career through seven games. Beyond just the numbers, Pinto’s offensive skill set has certainly been impressive. Prior to Tuesday’s game against the A’s, he had demonstrated solid strike zone judgment while making excellent contact. In fact, he had seen 49 fastballs and swung-and-missed at only one. In addition to that, the Venezuelan backstop had ripped line drives all over the field – proving that he was not just an eager rookie swinging from his heels.
Now, it is sad, depressed jerks like me who have to use this platform to point out that this production is unsustainable. When it comes to the numbers, seven games is absolutely nothing. And so are the next baker’s dozen or so after this. Nothing that Pinto does statistically makes him the automatic heir to the catcher’s throne in 2013.
Like Parmelee, Pinto has not received the full-out advanced scouting treatment. In September 2011, people loved Parmelee’s approach and his ability to put a charge into the ball. Meanwhile, in 2012, opponents created a better game plan suited to getting him out. While they adjusted, Parmelee struggled to keep up. Since that magical month, he has hit just .226/.301/.374 in 149 games.
In Pinto’s case, he’s been very successful in counts in which pitchers attack the zone, like when he is ahead in the count (6-for-8, .750) and on even counts (5-for-7, .714). In last night’s game alone, the A’s staff threw Pinto 18 pitches, of which 15 were fastballs. As advanced scouts begin to see this pattern, they will likely advise their pitchers to change their approach – maybe more off-speed stuff or pitches on the edges of the plate.
The Twins will travel to Oakland next week and for the first time in his major league career, opponents will have a second chance to game plan him. By that time, expect some changes in the pitchers’ approach. That match-up will be a milestone in his player development – will he be able to adjust at the plate along with the pitchers?
This is not to say that Pinto cannot have a solid career in baseball. Over his eight minor league seasons, he has posted a 790 OPS. For comparison, former top catching prospect Wilson Ramos managed a 756 OPS in his six minor league seasons. Ramos, who started his major league career two years younger than Pinto, has continued to hit above-average for the Washington Nationals.
Pinto can be a solid contributor for 2014 but do not base it on his performance in this month alone.