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How Rene Pinto jumped to the top of the catcher depth chart

The catching prospect that emerged out of the pandemic was not top-line acquisition Blake Hunt.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Atlanta Braves Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the pandemic interrupting the facets of everything in the world, Rene Pinto had been an organizational soldier for the Tampa Bay Rays. He served as a backstop throughout the lower rungs of the organization, mainly serving as the backup catcher at each level he was playing in.

Although he never merited that much attention as a prospect, Pinto had always posted solid offensive results as he hit .280/.335/.419 over 1,422 plate appearances from 2014 through 2019, with the Venezuelan reaching Double-A Montgomery in 2019.

In 2020, Pinto would be added to the alternate training site as the minor league season would be cancelled due to pandemic, and then became a free agent upon the conclusion of the season by rule.

However, during his time at the alternate training site, Pinto impressed the Rays brass. According to Carlos Rodriguez, the Rays Vice President of Development and International Scouting, Pinto has always showcased flashes of big tools.

“For several years, Rene has shown flashes of big tools while progressing through our system.”

Even though Pinto didn’t show signs of putting it all together until his time at the alternate training site in 2020, the very end of his entry level contract, the Rays quickly re-signed him, hoping to see if Pinto could continue his progress.

Pinto would reward the Rays faith by putting together the best season of his seven year long career in affiliated ball.

Splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A, Pinto hit .274/.325/.500 with an impressive 20 homeruns over 382 plate appearances; Pinto only had 24 homeruns over his first six years in the organization.

With his offensive game seemingly excelling, the question now falls to Pinto’s defensive capabilities, which has always been the question mark in his development. But that area of Pinto’s game has also seen a vast improvement.

“As a catcher, the foremost area of improvement has been his receiving. He already had strong hands and above-average arm strength, but Rene worked at making adjustments to his setup that came with favorable results this year.

The Rays would reward Pinto by adding him to their 40-man roster upon the conclusion of the 2021 campaign, at the expense of the system’s star catching prospect Blake Hunt, thus making the 25 year old catcher just one call away from reaching the big leagues.

Although he has Mike Zunino and Francisco Mejia in front of him on the depth chart, the volatile position of catcher makes it an almost certainty that Pinto will reach the Majors sooner, rather than later, with the potential to impress.

Take it from Rays VP Carlos Rodriguez:

“Rene has all the tools to be a frontline major league catcher.’’