As we move toward spring training, Twinkie Town will be running a series previewing the Twins position-by-position for 2014. It'll be an opportunity to review changes and personnel, with a view to getting a good look at each position's depth. We kick it all off with catcher.
Additions: Kurt Suzuki
Subtractions: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit
After Mauer's concussion in August, speculation about moving out from behind the plate picked up steam and, in November, the Twins announced his decision to take over at first base. The decision left a massive talent gap at catcher. Rumors circulated regarding interest in the free agent market's top two catchers, A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but the Twins weren't able to land either. Once the attention of the front office was on the second tier of free agent catchers, John Buck and Shoppach had their names come up, but in the end Minnesota brought in Suzuki.
Oh, and the Twins traded Doumit to the Braves for Sean Gilmartin. I shouldn't make Doumit a footnote, but when you're the guy who also left when the first guy was Joe Mauer, that's how it works.
40-Man Roster: Eric Fryer, Chris Herrmann, Josmil Pinto, Suzuki
As Bryz noted on Wednesday, Fryer is the oldest non-Suzuki catcher in the organization but also has the least Major League experience. His roster security is among the lowest on the 40-man, but in spite of having no chance to go north with the club at the conclusion of spring training he's considered the emergency's emergency catcher. Herrmann, on the other hand, has the organization's support and, while construction of the bench is likely to squeeze him off the 25-man roster, his place on the 40-man is secure.
Pinto is the sexy pick for the starter. Hitting .342/.398/.566 in 21 games as a 24-year old will do that. The front office has to be hoping that such a performance, as well as the way that Pinto has hit in the minor leagues since 2012, is a precursor to how productive he can be going forward. Whether he's allowed to make the most of that potential this season, the best way for Pinto to maximize his playing time, is to prove that he can hold his own behind the plate.
When the season opens, regardless of who is anointed the "starter" out of spring training, I imagine that Ron Gardenhire will grant a fairly even time share at catcher. As the portfolio on Pinto comes together, we'll see a shift in preference: more Pinto, provided he hits and plays his position adequately, and more Suzuki in all other cases. Even if Suzuki doesn't hit, Gardy will ride his veteran (the "known quantity") over a young and inexperienced player who is struggling.
Prospects: Kyle Knudson, Matthew Koch, Stuart Turner
While Pinto still registers on many prospect lists, he's about to graduate. The system he leaves behind is pretty thin as far as talent goes, with both Knudson and Koch being solid system guys but having little potential to breakout. Over 85 games in Advanced-A, Knudson has posted a .367 OBP, along with a .382 OBP in Double-A down the stretch in 2013. But for a player entering his age-26 season, upside is limited. Koch is a year younger and a level below, posting a respectable triple slash for a catcher (MiLB career .267/.347/.419), but being 25 and catching in Double-A isn't really noteworthy for a prospect, either.
At this point, the only catcher in the system who is really worth keep an eye on is Turner. Taken by the Twins in the third round of last year's draft, Turner carries a strong reputation for his tools as a catcher but scouts also believe he might be able to hit a little. Between both Rookie leagues (and one game in Double-A) last summer, he batted .272/.345/.384. He'll be 22 this season, so if he does well he can control his own destiny. Keep an eye on him this summer.
Spring Training Non-Roster Invitees: Knudson, Koch, Dan Rohlfing, Turner
The Twins, just like every team in baseball, carry a boat load of catchers in spring training to help with the abundance of pitchers. Rohlfing, the only guy on the list we haven't talked about, is 24 and has been in the system since 2007. He's an organizational guy through and through, so it's good to see him get these kinds of opportunities.
Unlike some other positions, none of these four guys has any chance of cracking the 40-man roster much less the opening day roster. They'll all get a look in at some point, but as mentioned above the guy to watch is Turner - simply to see how the staff handles him.
The Twins are undoubtedly weaker at catcher going into 2014 than they were in 2013, but when you lose one of the best in the game that's going to happen. It's an interesting position, though, because playing time is up in the air and we're also going to get an opportunity to see a young player take his hacks at turning into a long-term solution.
Total WAR: 2.5
Starts: Pinto (90), Suzuki (60), Other (12)
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