The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 9, 2013

Thoma column: Twins may be catching on to a time share


The Mankato Free Press

---- — How many catchers can a team fit into its lineup? The Twins seem determined to find out.

Joe Mauer remains on the sidelines with a concussion, but he was taking batting practice this weekend and the reports were good.

As for the rampant calls for Mauer to abandon catching, Terry Ryan essentially says: No. Mauer wants to catch, and Ryan and Ron Gardenhire want him to catch. So he'll catch when he returns.

Meanwhile, prospect Josmil Pinto has been a veritable line-drive machine with the Twins: 10-for-18 with three extra base hits entering Sunday's game. Nobody's legitimately a .556 hitter, but Pinto's minor league track record says he can rake.

And rookie Chris Herrmann, largely paired with fellow rookie Andrew Albers, has had his moments. As a left-handed hitter who can play in the outfield as well as catch, it's easy to see the 25-year-old carving out a career as a reserve catcher.

Mauer, Pinto, Herrmann — and then there's Ryan Doumit, the veteran switch hitter with one year and $3.5 million left on his contract.

Doumit's playing time has dried up since the arrival of Pinto and outfielder Alex Presley, even with Mauer out of action.

But that's been against Houston, Toronto and Anaheim. Now it will be Oakland and Tampa Bay. Gardenhire may well believe he'll be playing the pennant race fairly if he uses the established Doumit in these games with playoff implications.

Me, I'd rather he went with the kids, at least as long as Mauer's out. Doumit's justification for playing is that he's a quality hitter. But he hasn't hit this season, at least not to his usual standards, and he's at the age where good-hitting catchers frequently suffer a drastic decline at the plate.

The rap on Pinto as he climbed the minor league ladder has been that his defensive skills are rough. To this untrained eye, he's been fine with the Twins, certainly not noticeably worse than Doumit. I don't see a real advantage to playing Doumit ahead of him even in the short term.

The long term is what really matters for this team. The longer Pinto hits, the more convinced people outside the organization will be that he can (and thus should) be the regular catcher henceforth.

This notion doesn't meld with the "Mauer's our catcher" position of the front office and may set up new round of Internet criticism of the organization.

There's room for both, I think. For all Ryan's talk last offseason of how Mauer was to catch 120 games this year, he won't, and he wasn't on pace to before the concussion either. Mauer hasn't caught 120 games in a single season since 2008, hasn't caught 100 games in a season since 2010.

Pinto's playing time behind the plate was limited in the minors as well; he had some shoulder issues, and the managers in Double A and Triple A seldom had him catch back-to-back games.

So there's room for a time share, something along the lines of 75 games for Mauer, 75 for Pinto and 22 for Herrmann, with Mauer and Pinto getting considerable time at first base and DH and Herrmann serving as a reserve outfielder as well.

That idea leaves Doumit on the outside looking in. There has to be a limit to how many catchers can help a lineup.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.