Inbox: How does Pinto play into plans?
Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers questions from Twins fans
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's a new year for the Twins, as they're ready to move on from 2014 and into '15 with new manager Paul Molitor.
The Twins have improved their roster this offseason with the additions of Torii Hunter and Ervin Santana, and have several top prospects on the way. It should be a better 2015 than '14 for Minnesota, although the rest of the division has also gotten tougher, so the Twins will have their work cut out for them.
So there are still several questions about the Twins heading into Spring Training next month, and with that in mind, here's this week's Inbox:
How does Josmil Pinto figure into the Twins' plans for next season? It seems that Pinto's defensive will keep him from being an everyday MLB catcher, and with Kennys Vargas penciled in as the DH, would the Twins look to trade him or is there another way to incorporate his bat into the lineup regularly?
-- Alex H., St. Paul, Minn.
It's clear Pinto's bat is Major League-ready, but the Twins kept him at Triple-A Rochester most of last season to work on his defense. Twins officials maintain Pinto's defense has gotten better, so it'll be up to Molitor to decide how to use him this season. Pinto's never going to be an above-average defender behind the plate, but he'd bring value as a backup to Kurt Suzuki -- even with subpar defense, because of his bat.
Vargas does figure to be the club's regular at designated hitter in 2015, but he still has plenty to prove after a solid showing in his rookie year, so it's not like Pinto is locked out of serving as DH here and there. At this point, however, Pinto, who turns 26 on March 31, should be on the big league roster or traded, as there's not much use stashing him at Triple-A.
Which coaches on Molitor's staff speak fluent Spanish in order to communicate with the Latin American players? Is Molitor fluent in Spanish?
-- Jeff B., Lancaster, Ohio
This was a point of emphasis for the Twins, as they have so many young players from Latin America, including Danny Santana, Eduardo Escobar, Oswaldo Arcia and Vargas. Bobby Cuellar was the lone coach last year who could speak Spanish, so the Twins made sure to add a position coach who can speak the language by hiring Rudy Hernandez as assistant hitting coach.
Bullpen coach Eddie Guardado is also familiar with the language, although he admits he isn't completely fluent. Molitor also isn't fluent but has worked well with many of the organization's Spanish-speaking players in the past in his coaching roles in both the Minors and Majors.
How is Miguel Sano's rehab from Tommy John surgery coming along? Do you foresee any further setbacks on his road to the Majors?
-- Austin L., Nashville, Tenn.
From all indications, Sano's recovery has gone to plan so far since undergoing the surgery in March, and he will be ready to go for Spring Training. The Twins were just cautious with him this offseason, as they held him out of winter ball in his native Dominican Republic so that they could be in control of his rehab plan. Instead of playing in the Dominican, Sano trained at the club's Spring Training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., without any issues.
Sano, 21, has stayed in good shape and will head to Major League camp after being added to the 40-man roster this offseason. He's expected to start at Double-A Chattanooga, but he could make his Major League debut by late summer if all goes well.
How long can we wait for Aaron Hicks to show offensive improvement without giving up on him?
-- DeLonce S., Bismarck, N.D.
The Twins appear ready to give Hicks another chance, as Hicks and Jordan Schafer are the club's top two options in center field, with Hunter taking over in right field and Arcia moving to left.
For as much as Hicks has struggled in his two years in the Majors, it's easy to forget he was a top prospect for a reason and is just 25 years old. So this will be a huge year for him, but at least he'll have Hunter to help mentor him. Hicks still needs to improve his preparation skills and Hunter should help with that. It took Hunter a while to figure it out as well, as he didn't develop into an above-average hitter until he turned 25.