CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 06: Designated hitter Robinson Chirinos #38 of the Tampa Bay Rays fouls off a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at Bright House Field on March 6, 2011 in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Robinson Chirinos came over in the Matt Garza deal with perhaps the most compelling narrative, but no higher than the the third highest ceiling of the Five Man Garza Loot Band. It's easy to get behind a player who made the unusual conversion from shortstop to catcher in his 25-year-old season in Advanced-A ball in 2009. Chirinos took to the position well and the career momentum carried over to his bat. Nonetheless, Chirinos will turn 27 in June and only has 62 plate appearances to date at the Triple-A level.
Chirinos was just added to the 40-man roster this off season, meaning he has a slew of options the Rays could burn through, a nice luxury that could enable Chirinos to continue to hone his staff-handling craft in Durham. "Lefty-mashing" catcher Kelly Shoppach is in the final guaranteed season of his deal, earning $3 million, leaving Chirinos with seemingly little hope outside of an injury to crack the opening day 25-man roster.
It still seems likely that Chirinos will begin the season in Durham, but the Venezuela native is doing everything in his power to battle his way on the roster a la Sean Rodriguez in 2010. Chirinos is 7-18 this Spring with three walks. Five of the seven hits have been of the extra base variety. His slash line is .389/.496/.944. Even that video game cheat code line doesn't do the week he is having justice.
- The Rays have won the past three games in walkoff fashion and Chirinos has played a vital role in each victory.
- On Tuesday the Rays found themselves down to their final out in the bottom of the 9th with Nevin Ashley, who runs well for a catcher, on second base. Chirinos came through with a game-tying triple off Durham Bull legend Winston Abreu.
- On Wednesday, the catcher followed it up with a leadoff double in the bottom of the 11th against the Blue Jays' Luis Perez. Chirinos would score the winning run.
- Yesterday, Chirinos ended the game with a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Red Sox and Alfredo Aceves.
Those three plate appearances produced WPA's (Win Probabilty Added) of 48.3%, 16.8%, and 29.3%. Chirinos also broke open a 2-2 score in the 7th inning with a two-out bases clearing double against the Pirates this Spring, and added a 9th inning home run the following day. Thats an awful lot to accomplish in 21 Spring plate appearances.
Continuing to work on catching, playing versus plenty of right-handed pitching, and maximizing organizational flexibility are just a few of the reasons Chirinos will likely start the year in Durham. However, I'd be surprised if Andrew Friedman isn't looking around the league trying to move Shoppach to a team in need of catching help, in exchange for salary relief and perhaps another bullpen arm. Even if Shoppach makes the roster, you can't rule out Chirinos making the roster as a 3rd catcher. I'm a little surprised he has not received some looks at 1B; an infield of Chirinos, Zobrist, Rodriguez, and Longoria could give lefty hurlers fits. Spring stats may not mean much but you can't help but smile at what we've seen from Robinson Chirinos.