Baseball America. Baseball Prospectus. Seth Stohs. None of these minor league mavens saw Pinto coming in 2013. The kid was so far off the radar you’d figure he had drowned in tobacco juice (which has been known to happen in Wisconsin) somewhere in Beloit . And yet, one year later, here he is, number seven with a bullet on our prospect list. What happened? How did everyone miss so badly?
Part of it is the nature of the prospecting game, to be sure. People can overrate guys for certain elements of their game...like former prospect Joe Benson, for example. Once upon a time he was a Top 10 guy every year because he was the toolsiest tool to ever tool. He had everything: The body, the athleticism, the hair (oh, the hair). In the end, the tools were not able to translate into big league success. Not yet, anyhow. Meanwhile, a guy like Pinto who has a frumpy body, an unorthodox swing and is a bigger liability behind the plate than a competitive eater with lockjaw... well, sometimes those guys keep improving or keep hitting.
In November 2012, the Twins added the 24-year-old catcher to their 40-man roster, a consortium of ballplayers that was already littered with catchers. The move was originally heralded as curious. In their preseason annual, Baseball Prospectus considered his inclusion a “somewhat surprising addition” to the Twins’ group. After all, he had but 52 plate appearances in AA New Britain under his belt.
Despite a .295/.362/.482 line in 2012 while playing a position that places emphasis on defense, Baseball America omitted him from the Twins’ Top 10 list. As did Baseball Prospectus. (Of course, a lot of that can be attributed to the growing depth of prospect talent in the team’s farm system.) Even though he demonstrated a good deal of power in the offense-stifling Florida State League, Pinto’s age (24) at the start of the 2013 season, his injury history, his non-jeans model body and his oft questioned defense likely earned him demerits in the rankings.
Last year in spring training, the 24-year-old catcher began to catch a few eyes as well. Manager Ron Gardenhire professed intrigue in the Venezuelan while prospector John Sickels noted that Pinto has slimmed down some, making the knock on his body shape less of a factor in his projection. Then he just kept hitting and moving. First it was New Britain, where he earned an All-Star berth, followed by a brief stint in Rochester and then having his season culminate with a summons from the big club in September.
Pinto’s September call-up was preceded by Joe Mauer’s season-ending injury and that allowed him to play almost full-time behind the plate and to hit every day. And hit he did. With the exception of Chris Parmelee’s 2011, Pinto’s 2013 season was the best offensive performance by a Twins’ call-up in a long while. While that is a good sign, much like with Parmelee, the results in the small sampling do not dictate future output.
Why He Might Struggle
Teams have little time to prepare game plans to attack call-ups' weaknesses and often are left challenging them with fastballs. In his time with the Twins, Pinto saw almost 60% fastballs -- a very high percentage in comparison with the league average. With his high leg kick, Pinto may prove to be more susceptible to offspeed and breaking pitches or simply have his timing thrown off when he faces a greater variety of pitches.
With the equipment on, Pinto did not prove to be as much of a liability as previously advertised. In fact, after not throwing out any of five runners in spring training, Pinto, in September, nailed five of 11 would-be base-stealers while not allowing a passed ball (there were nine wild pitches credited to the pitchers). Still, this did not stop general manager Terry Ryan from voicing caution when it came to assessing his overall catching abilities. This winter Ryan told Twins Daily that the team viewed Pinto’s September as good, not great.
Why He Will Succeed
While a wider array of pitch types might provide a kink in his development, he has hit at almost every level. Unlike some prospects who need a period of adjustment, Pinto has hit the ground running. Last year, one area of his game that saw improvement was his plate discipline: he saw an increase in walk rates despite playing at higher levels -- perhaps a sign that he will be able to have success against different pitches.
Having already mentioned that his significant leg kick might be a detriment, it is also a solid timing mechanism that helps him perform well against both hard and soft offerings. Examining his spray chart, you can see that for hard offerings (fastballs, sliders, etc), he stays middle-away. On the other hand, for slower offerings (changeups, curves, etc), he pull them. Some hitters get caught cheating to pull the fastball and find themselves too far out in front to adjust to offspeed (Ryan Doumit comes to mind). Pinto does not do this.
Pinto can hit, we know this. The Twins want to see more from him defensively in order to give him the position full-time. His white-hot September aside, he probably could use a few more ABs and defensive refinement at Rochester before taking over the job.