Twins 2015 position preview: Catchers

The Twins appear set at catcher for at least the next two seasons, as Minnesota inked Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $12 million contract extension last July that will keep him with Minnesota through 2016.

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The third installment of the Twins’ 2015 position preview takes a look at catcher, where Kurt Suzuki had a big year in 2014 as the full-time replacement to Joe Mauer. Minnesota hopes Suzuki’s All-Star season wasn’t a fluke.

PROJECTED STARTER

Kurt Suzuki (.288/.345/.383, 3 HR, 61 RBI in 131 games)

KEY BACKUPS

2014 IN REVIEW

The Twins signed Suzuki prior to 2014 as a temporary stopgap at catcher. Suzuki, who previously played for Washington and Oakland in 2013, signed a one-year deal to come to Minnesota and take over as the everyday catcher after Joe Mauer permanently moved to first base. The numbers Suzuki gave the Twins last year resulted in him becoming more than just a one-year solution. Minnesota inked Suzuki to a two-year, $12 million contract extension in July that will keep him with the Twins through 2016.

Suzuki was viewed as more of a defensive catcher when Minnesota initially signed him, but he had one of the best offensive years of his eight-year big-league career. His .288 average was a career high, and his 61 RBI were the third-most of his career. Those numbers helped Suzuki earn his first-ever All-Star nod, and he caught teammate and Twins closer Glen Perkins in the ninth inning to help the American League beat the National League at Target Field.

Despite various dings and bruises, Suzuki was plenty durable in 2014. He played in 131 games, including 115 starts at catcher. Minnesota used a combination of Pinto (26 games) and Eric Fryer (21 games) as Suzuki’s backup when he needed the occasional day off.

Pinto turned some heads in 2013 when he made his MLB debut and batted .342 with four homers in 21 games at the end of the season. However, his defensive abilities were still a bit raw. In 2014, Pinto didn’t produce offensively like he did the year prior and wound up spending a good chunk of the season at Triple-A Rochester. Fryer wasn’t much of a threat at the plate — he hit just .213 in 28 games — but was more advanced defensively than Pinto.

Twins 2015 Spring Training

2015 OUTLOOK

Whether or not the 31-year-old Suzuki can come close to replicating his offensive numbers remains to be seen, but Minnesota feels comfortable in the fact that Suzuki will be behind the plate on a regular basis — and produce with the bat more than some thought he would when he first came to the Twins. Suzuki’s power has dropped off the last few years (six homers in 2012, five in 2013, and three last year), so don’t necessarily expect much home run production from Suzuki in 2015. That doesn’t mean he can’t drive in runs, though; he batted .324 with runners in scoring position during the 2014 season.

The battle for Suzuki’s backup is still not decided in camp, with Herrmann and Pinto both gunning for a spot on the 25-man roster. It doesn’t sound like new Twins manager Paul Molitor wants to keep three catchers on the roster, meaning one of those two — and Fryer, as well — will be left out. Herrmann has the added bonus of being able to play multiple positions aside from catcher (he can move to the outfield and also play first base), while Pinto is solely a catcher. Plus, Pinto missed time within the last week due to a concussion he sustained when Baltimore’s Adam Jones caught Pinto in the helmet with his bat. Whether or not that missed time hurt Pinto’s chances remains to be seen, but it didn’t help.

Molitor’s new coaching staff is placing a big emphasis on holding opposing runners on base, a task that falls on both the pitcher and the catcher. Suzuki nabbed 25 percent of potential base stealers last season, which was about on par with his career average and ranked 12th in the majors among qualified catchers. Still, the Twins would like to see that number improve a bit in 2015.

KEY TO SUCCESS

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Keep Suzuki healthy. Countless times last year, Suzuki took a foul tip or blocked a ball in the dirt, only to shake it off and stay in the game. He’s caught 120 or more games in a season four times during his eight-year career, and he avoided the disabled list last year with the Twins. Not that Minnesota doesn’t have any options if Suzuki were to go down, but the Twins might struggle to replace Suzuki’s consistency behind the plate if he suffers anything more than the usual bumps and bruises that accompany the catcher position.

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