Welcome to Player-A-Day. The purpose of this column is to identify interesting major league players who may be fantasy-relevant in 2014. We will discuss the real-world roles the player may fill, set a range of potential expectations, identify any wild-card factors in play, and comment on how this affects the player’s fantasy value.
The high level
A few days ago, I was playing with a custom Ottoneu auction value sheet that I’m trying to build. I was using 2013 stats for all catchers to build out replacement level-aware valuations. The first steps to this were calculating 2013 points and then creating an adjusted points column using replacement level and some special sauce.
I’m confident saying that the formula requires adjustment, but I did learn something interesting in the process. Anyone who started Josmil Pinto in all of his plate appearances plus a replacement level catcher in all other games may have received the best catching stats in their league. Show of hand, how many of you did that?
Pinto’s been working in the Twins organization for six seasons and has earned a reputation as a poor defender. However, his offense picked up in 2012 and improved in 2013. It now seems likely that Pinto can hit at the major league level, perhaps enough to split time between catcher, first base, and designated hitter.
Playing time is a major concern in 2014 and there’s a lot of risk and reward in his profile. Including Pinto, the Twins have five catchers on the 40 man roster including Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Eric Fryer, and Chris Herrmann. Mauer and Doumit you already know. Fryer and Herrman aren’t household names, but they both have interesting qualities. Pinto probably has a better chance to see playing time at first base or designated hitter, although there are plenty of names to pull out of the hat at those positions too (Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello, and Josh Willingham come to mind).
Pinto has been a high BABIP hitter since his breakout in 2012. In his small 83 plate appearance sample in the majors, he managed a 24 percent line drive rate. That doesn’t justify a .440 BABIP, but it does leave cause for hope that he can outpace the .295 BABIP that Steamer (a projection system) expects of him in 2014.
While we’re on the topic of projections, Steamer also calls for a 7.5 percent walk rate, 18.4 percent strikeout rate, and .140 ISO. Those are respectable numbers for a catcher and we could definitely see more power given that his minor league ISO’s have averaged around .170.
A lack of data makes it hard for us to dig deeper into his statistical profile, so the Brooks Baseball charts will have to wait for the future. Thankfully, we have plenty of scouting write-ups from 2013, most of which view Pinto as a top under-the-radar prospect.
Prospect maven John Sickels wrote about Pinto twice in 2013. Here are a couple choice quotes.
Most complaints about Pinto revolve around a bad body and doubtful defense, although as I wrote above, his actual defensive stats aren’t bad and have gotten better over time. Reportedly, he has lost some weight and looks more athletic this spring -Apr 12 2013
The most recent reports rate him as an average defender instead of a future DH/guy with no position. Ironically, while the scouting reports are better now, he actually wasn’t as effective against baserunners this year, throwing out 28%. -Sept 6, 2013
Sometimes, you’ll see scouts question a catching prospect’s ability to stick behind the plate, only to see that concern evaporate when the player starts to put up better hitting numbers. That may be what we’re observing with Pinto—in other words, he always profiled as an adequate defender, but injuries, a bad body type, and tepid hitting caused scouts to discount the mediocre defense.
For most fantasy owners, Pinto is simply a name to watch. Owners in leagues that roster 24 or more catchers will want to pay particularly close attention, while those in deeper leagues like Ottoneu probably ought to roster him for $1.
He has a rough path to playing time in Minnesota that will start with winning a job out of spring training. Unless the Twins think they can play him five days or more a week, he will probably open 2014 in Triple-A. Options like Fryer and Herrman mean that they won’t need to roster Pinto as the third catcher.
We know from experience that Mauer and Doumit spend more than their fair share of time on the disabled list. Pinto’s offensive profile makes him an obvious everyday starter should either or both players hit the shelf. It’s at that point when he becomes valuable to most fantasy owners.
Pinto has the pop to hit 15 to 20 home runs over a full season. It’s possible that he would bat in the middle of the order, which would allow him to provide adequate counting stats. If the Twins use him lower in the order, he’ll struggle to generate much fantasy value.
He’s drawn some comps to Wilson Ramos (funny how comps tend to be players from the same system…), which signals that he could be an above average hitting catcher. The best case scenario is if he draws frequent starts at first base and designated hitter while catching just often enough to maintain fantasy eligibility.