- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Perhaps it’s a Minnesota thing. Major league catchers are hitting a disappointing .247 this season, with a .703 OPS, but the Minnesota Twins laugh at that number. Their catchers are hitting .305 with a .867 OPS. Three-time batting champion Joe Mauer, currently out with a concussion, is hitting .324, and .330 when he’s catching. The organization recently promoted prospect Josmil Pinto for September and he has picked right up where Mauer left off. Pinto smacked three doubles in Monday’s win, giving him a robust .565 batting average after 24 at-bats, and fantasy owners should take notice.
Sure, it’s a bit early to call Pinto the next Mauer -- or any top-10 catcher -- but the 24-year-old hit .309 across two minor league levels this season, with 15 home runs, 32 doubles and perhaps most important 66 walks. His on-base percentage was a Mauer-like .400. Unlike Mauer, Pinto bats right-handed, but it’s clear the organization believes in him; he batted second in the lineup Monday, knocking in a run and scoring two more, while hitting two of his doubles to deep center field off Los Angeles Angels right-hander Jered Weaver. The other double went to deep right field off right-hander J.C. Gutierrez. He’s the No. 7 catcher on the ESPN Player Rater over the past 15 days, which is nice because he got promoted 10 days ago.
By mid-September, several of the catchers fantasy managers have relied on this season are no longer performing at the same level -- Brian McCann, Jason Castro and even Yadier Molina are excellent examples -- and youngsters like Pinto become reasonable short-term pickups. Dropping Molina for Pinto is irrational, but temporarily sitting him for a guy with four multihit games in five starts isn’t. And most people don’t own Molina. I added Pinto in a keeper format as well, just in case Mauer is moved to another position such as first base next season, and he earns the starting job. He’s not a big guy, but he has excellent plate discipline and hits the ball the opposite way. At this position, that’s a start.
As for Mauer, his fantasy owners are mighty frustrated that he last played three weeks ago, and updates clarifying his status have seemed few and far between. I wouldn’t cut Mauer yet, despite the fact the Twins have long been out of any pennant contention and would seem to have little reason to play him. Another batting title seems unlikely, unless Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera hits a major slump. Twins general manager Terry Ryan said over the weekend Mauer is expected back soon, and a .300 batting average is always welcomed. Regardless, it’s nice to see the Twins have depth for that role.
Box score bits (AL): For those scared to use New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia in Baltimore Monday, I hear ya. But Sabathia pitched fine, allowing four runs (three earned) in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out six. It’s OK to sit him this weekend in Boston, though. He has a 7.15 ERA against the Red Sox in four starts this season. Nobody should sit Cleveland Indians right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. He fanned 10 Kansas City Royals over seven walk-free innings Monday, allowing one unearned run. I still won’t draft him among the top 30 starting pitchers in 2014 -- too much WHIP risk -- but the way he looks lately, with double-digit whiffs in three of four starts and a reduced walk rate, he’s a must-own. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon stole his 10th base Monday! It’s the third consecutive season the safe, durable Gordon has reached double-digits in home runs and steals. Nick Castellanos earned the start in left field for the Detroit Tigers Monday, hitting a single in three at-bats. Castellanos was promoted from Triple-A Toledo 10 days ago, but this was only his second start. There should be more in the coming weeks, if your league is deep enough. Both starting pitchers in the Houston Astros-Seattle Mariners game Monday were effective in their final outings of 2013. Houston Astros right-hander Jarred Cosart walked six, and finished with 35 walks and 33 strikeouts in 60 innings (10 starts). Um, the walks are a problem, and make his 1.95 ERA deceiving. Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker fanned eight in five innings. He’s only 20, but there is ace upside here. Walker is the preferred 2014 choice.
Box score bits (NL): On Monday night, Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe became the fifth third baseman this season to hit three home runs in a game, blasting Randall Delgado and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Uribe entered play with seven home runs in 116 games, and owned in less than 1 percent of ESPN standard leagues. It’s a bit like Yusmeiro Petit nearly tossing a perfect game. Don’t get too excited about the fantasy potential. Chicago Cubs lefty Travis Wood tossed seven shutout innings at Cincinnati Monday, earning his ninth win in 20 decisions. For some reason Wood, with a season ERA of 3.05, remains available in nearly half of ESPN’s standard leagues. His road ERA, incidentally, is 2.36. Those who added New York Mets right-hander Carlos Torres as a sneaky two-start pitcher this week were burned by his Monday outing, as the Washington Nationals smacked four home runs off him. Torres is scheduled to face the Miami Marlins later this week. Leave him active for that one. … The Marlins got eight hits against the Atlanta Braves Monday, with leadoff hitter Chris Coghlan having half of them. Of course, he neither scored a run nor knocked in any. Ah, the Marlins. It’s also premature to add Coghlan hoping for batting average help. Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole outdueled Yu Darvish in Arlington, Texas. Cole fanned nine in seven shutout innings, permitting three singles. The rookie certainly doesn’t seem to be tiring, and there’s no talk of shutting him down. Incidentally, Mark Melancon earned the save, his 12th. His ERA remains a ridiculous 0.85. Why would the Pirates return Jason Grilli to the closing role at this point? Own Grilli, but keep expectations low.