For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Minnesota Twins' fans have been witnessing non-Joe Mauer starting catchers behind the dish this season. The Twins decided that Mauer, who has been the Twins’ starting catcher since June of 2004, would transition to first base—full time—in 2014.
The team’s offseason signing of Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $2.75 million deal only solidified the organization’s impactful decision.
Mauer, owner of a career .322 batting average and park-adjusted 136 OPS+, has missed far too many games in his career due to the rigors associated with squatting and blocking pitches. In fact, the 30-year-old St. Paul native has sat out 144 games total since 2011.
Pinto has quickly taken advantage of his first 30 plate appearances in 2014. The 25-year-old has swatted three home runs with a 13.3 percent walk rate and 155 OPS+.
The right-handed hitter’s exciting April isn’t just an anomaly, either. Pinto collected 19 home runs between the minors and majors in 2013 and had a variety of prospect experts gushing about his skill set, too.
SB Nation’s John Sickels liked Pinto’s profile prior to 2014, stating, “This Venezuelan catcher has hit the snot out of the ball for two years while improving his glove work. He looked excellent with the bat during [a] September  trial with the Twins, but is still underrated/overlooked as a prospect. Even with a so-so glove, the bat will play.”
Sickels wasn’t the only prospect expert to rave about Pinto.
Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks concurred with Sickels in his November 2013 piece on the Twins’ prospect, writing, “[Pinto’s] not a middle-of-the-order hitter and he’s not a shutdown defender, but he is likely to be a consistent solid-average player at a premium position, one that could hit .275-plus with 15 bombs while playing average (or better) defense.”
Even Bleacher Report’s own Nathanial Stolz was impressed by Pinto in his January 2010 article, telling readers to “remember [Pinto’s] name.”
While it appeared Suzuki won the starting gig out of spring training, per MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger, manager Ron Gardenhire was aware of Pinto’s burgeoning talent.
"[Pinto's] doing fine," Gardenhire said. "He's working with pitchers and learning some stuff. It's a work in progress as we go along here. He's getting better. He studies the game, and that's what we liked about him late in the year. So we'll see how it goes."
Pinto's first 30 plate appearances aside, fans will still likely have to cope with the inevitable ups-and-downs of any player’s rookie campaign. Regardless, with FanGraphs projecting Pinto to produce a .254 batting average, 7.8 percent walk rate, park-adjusted 104 wRC+ and 14 home runs this season, it’s difficult to not be excited for Josmil Pinto in 2014 and beyond.