Robinson Chirinos Catching On

By Tommy Rancel //

In 2009, Robinson Chirinos was a 25-year-old playing A-ball in the Chicago Cubs organization. A converted infielder, he was still new to the catcher position. After years of toiling in the minors, things have progressed quickly since then. Just two years later, Chirinos appears to be the Tampa Bay Rays new primary catcher with a chance to take hold of the position in 2012. Last week, the social media landscape was buzzing about “Honey Nut Chirinos” after the rookie tied a game against the Toronto Blue Jays with a pinch-hit, RBI single in the 11th inning before getting the walk-off hit just an inning later. This came one day after notching four RBI and his first major-league home run.

Despite his age and his inexperience behind the plate, Tampa Bay saw enough potential in Chirinos to make him part of the package of players they received for Matt Garza this offseason. Following a monster campaign at the Double-A level last season (.985 OPS), he quickly captured the attention of a new fanbase with a solid showing in Spring Training. Initially, he struggled this season in Triple-A, but posted good numbers in recent months, showing growth and progress. After a pair of injuries to primary catcher John Jaso – and his replacement Jose Lobaton – Chirinos, 27, finally received a callup following nearly a decade in the minor leagues.

Although they already have a major-league veteran in Kelly Shoppach on the roster, Joe Maddon and the Rays have given Chirinos the bulk of the playing time in Jaso’s absence. Where both Shoppach and Jaso have struggled at the plate this season, Chirinos has provided the Rays with a spark, hitting .286/.362/.405 in his first 16 games. The sample size is small, but production from catcher is difficult to come by.

With Jaso just beginning a rehab assignment and Shoppach unlikely to be retained at the end of the season, the Rays are giving Chirinos every chance to prove he is ready for a larger role heading into 2012. This means playing against both right and left-handed starters. He remains a work in progress on defense; however, his offense thus far looks as advertised.

While his batting average may settle in the .260 area, he shows a disciplined approach at the plate. Because of his refined eye, he should be a safe bet to post above-average walk rates. In doing so, his on-base percentage should be above the norm for a player at his position. With gap power, good on-base skills, and decent wheels for a catcher, Chirinos is a decent mid-tier option in AL-only formats for the rest of 2011 and heading in to next season as well.

For more on Chirinos and information on other impact rookies, check out the Front Office Tool from Bloomberg Sports.

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