Suzuki won't try to be Mauer behind the plate
Veteran is leading candidate to start at catcher for Twins after Mauer's move to first
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins general manager Terry Ryan quieted any talk of a potential competition for the starting-catching job this spring, as he all but anointed veteran Kurt Suzuki as the club's starting catcher while addressing the media at TwinsFest.
Suzuki, who signed a one-year deal worth $2.75 million this offseason, will head into Spring Training as the leading candidate to replace Joe Mauer behind the plate, as Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer will compete to be his backup, according to Ryan.
But Suzuki made one thing clear, as he knows it's impossible to replicate what Mauer brought behind the plate as a six-time All-Star and former American League Most Valuable Player Award winner.
"I'm not trying to be Joe," Suzuki said. "I'm going to go out there and do my thing. Joe's gonna be there, some guy to lean on as well. It'll be good to have him for information and stuff like that. Joe still is a great catcher and a phenomenal teammate. I'm just going out there and be myself."
Suzuki, 30, has been known more for his defense during his seven-year career with the A's and Nationals. He's a career .253/.309/.375 hitter and batted .232/.290/.337 with five homers and 13 doubles in 94 games with the A's and Nats last year.
Suzuki has also thrown out 26 percent of attempted basestealers in his career but saw that number dip to a career-worst 12 percent last year. But he's still regarded as above-average at pitch framing and blocking balls in the dirt.
"I feel like I've got a lot to offer still in this game," Suzuki said. "I still feel on top of my game. Obviously the last couple years haven't gone the way I wanted to, but the way my body feels, I'm in a good spot mentally right now. I'm looking forward to this season."
Suzuki will also have Mauer to lean on for advice on the club's current pitching staff in Spring Training and for tips on opposing hitters during the regular season. The two talked about that at TwinsFest in late January, with Mauer offering to help out whenever he's needed.
"I told him, 'I don't want to step on anybody's toes, but I'm here to win, and if I can help, that's what I'm going to do.'" Mauer said. "He's here for the same reason, so it's good. The guys we brought in are good players, and they have the right mindset, too."
Pinto, 24, remains the club's future behind the plate, as the top prospect shined as a September callup last year, hitting .342 with four homers and five doubles in 21 games. He's hit at every level in the Minor Leagues but still has to refine his skills defensively.
Pinto could start the year at Triple-A Rochester to get more seasoning or serve as Suzuki's backup, but Suzuki said he's not at the point in his career where he wants to simply be a mentor and back up Pinto.
"I don't think anybody goes anywhere to sit on the bench," Suzuki said. "You want to play as many games as you can. The better you play, the more you play. That's how it has to be, and that's how you have to believe, because if you don't think otherwise, you can get complacent. You definitely have to earn your playing time."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire knows it'll be different without being able to write Mauer's name into the lineup at catcher because of his concussion suffered last year, but Gardenhire said he's excited to see what Suzuki and the rest of the catchers on the roster can bring this year.
"It's going to be entertaining," Gardenhire said. "We talked to Oakland when we were out there, and they had nothing but the best things in the world to say about Suzuki as far as a leader, a catcher, calling the ballgame, very intelligent, helping everybody out. He brings a lot to the table. We've got a young guy, Pinto, who we're going to see what he does here in Spring Training, and we have a couple other kids who we think can do some things for us."
Suzuki is also looking forward to see how it all shakes out this year and believes he can help the Twins.
"My job is to come into Spring Training ready to play," Suzuki said. "Whatever happens will dictate how much you play. In this game, if you don't perform, you don't play. That's the bottom line. I'm looking to come out here and perform and do my thing. The better I play, the more I play."