Twins impressed by rookie catcher Josmil Pinto so far

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Twins catcher Josmil Pinto had three doubles in Minnesota’s win Monday, but his most impressive swing of the night didn’t account for one of his three hits.

In the sixth inning, Pinto pulled a ball well foul down the left field line. The deep drive hit the glass of Target Field’s executive suites, a territory rarely — if ever — reached by batters. While Pinto flew out to right one pitch later to end the inning, it was his mammoth foul ball that drew a hearty applause from Minnesota’s fans.

“He’s a strong kid,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I haven’t seen anyone hit those windows up there in foul territory. … He’s doing pretty good. It’s fun to watch.

Pinto’s major league career is just seven games old, which is important to remember when putting things into perspective. But in that short span, the 24-year-old Venezuela native has been impressive during his time with the Twins. Through Monday’s three-hit game, Pinto is now batting .565 with four RBI, five doubles and a home run.

Facing a pitcher Monday who tossed eight scoreless innings earlier this year against Minnesota, Pinto was far from intimidated. As he dug into the box in the first inning Monday against Angels right-hander Jered Weaver, Pinto took his hacks.

A double to the right-center field gap in the first inning was a sign of things to come for Pinto. Two innings later he tagged a Weaver pitch and hit it high off the wall in left-center field, out of the reach of Angels center fielder Mike Trout. Pinto’s second double of the night scored the Twins’ first run and reiterated a fact Minnesota already knew: this kid can swing the bat.

“We know he can hit. He was able to swing the bat as a young pup and he had some pop in there,” Gardenhire said. “Whether or not he was going to be able to handle the catching, there you have it. He’s kind of worked his way right through.”

Indeed, the defensive side of the game has been Pinto’s weakness — but one he’s been eager to improve. There is plenty that goes into the defense of a catcher. Pinto has worked on learning to call games better as well as the everyday mechanics and footwork that go into the behind-the-plate part of the job.

Since Pinto was recalled on Aug. 31, he’s talked with Twins All-Star catcher Joe Mauer about how to handle Minnesota’s pitching staff. Pinto has also picked the brain of bench coach Terry Steinbach, who doubles as the team’s catching instructor.

“The biggest thing I like about him is his work ethic,” said Steinbach, a catcher for 14 seasons with Oakland and Minnesota. “He really, really wants to learn. He’s come in and has said, ‘Hey, anything you see, let me know.’ We’ve done meetings and he’s looking at videos. The other game, they got a lot of hits off (Kevin) Correia that game. We sat on the bench yesterday and said, ‘What do you see?’

“He’s really open about learning. That makes teaching a lot easier.”

Monday marked Pinto’s seventh big league game. Prior to his call-up, the stocky catcher climbed the minor league ladder this season. After beginning the year at Double-A New Britain — where he batted .308 with 14 homers, 23 doubles and 68 RBI in 108 games — he was promoted to Triple-A Rochester. It was only a matter of 19 games with the Red Wings before Pinto was eventually called up to the big leagues for the first time.

Pinto didn’t see the promotion coming, but he couldn’t help but smile as he recalled that Aug. 30 evening. The good news came after a 6-3 Rochester loss to Buffalo.

“It was a big surprise,” Pinto said. “In that moment, I was a little mad because we lost that game. The manager, we go to the clubhouse and he goes, ‘Pinto, you’re going to the big leagues, congratulations.’ It was a big moment. It was good.”

So far, Pinto has made the most of his brief stay in the majors, and he’s hoping that might mean a spot on the Twins’ 25-man roster next April. Of course, Minnesota already has a pretty good catcher in All-Star Joe Mauer, but Pinto is making a case to stick around in 2014.

There is plenty of work to be done as Pinto continues to polish his skills. But in a handful of games, the 24-year-old Pinto is looking like he belongs in the big leagues.

“We saw him go down a few years ago (to instructional league). He was raw,” Gardenhire said. “Balls were bouncing off him. Through a lot of hard work by him and a lot of hard work by the staff guys down there, he’s turned into a pretty decent receiver. He’s still got things to learn, calling games and all those things.

“But we’ve seen a pretty nice looking player at this level. He’s not overwhelmed.”

Pinto, meanwhile, won’t let himself get that far ahead. The Twins still have 20 games remaining in the month of September. While he likely won’t play in all of them, he’s hoping to make an impact in any games he does see action in.

“I try to live in the moment. I don’t try to think too much in the future,” Pinto said. “I try to play it game by game and see what happens next year.”

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