The Rays dealt with crushing injuries almost the entire 2012 season. But only one player missed the entire season: catcher Robinson Chirinos. Chrinos was going to be a candidate for a good amount of starts at the catcher position, but that came crashing down when a foul tip off of Chirinos’ mask led to a concussion that sidelined him the entire season as he failed to get into a single professional game at any level. It was a undoubtedly a catastrophic blow for the 28 year old Chirinos, but how much did his injury affect the Rays this past year?
The Rays acquired Chirinos in the blockbuster trade where they dealt Matt Garza and a pair of prospects to the Cubs and received several players that have been or will be future to their big league team: Sam Fuld, Chris Archer, top prospect Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, and Chirinos. He was coming off a breakout year in the Cubs system in 2010 in which he posted a .326/.416/.583 line with 28 doubles, 18 homers, 74 RBI, and 44 walks versus 33 strikeouts in 92 games primarily at Double-A while also contributing solid defense at catcher in just his second full season as a catcher after being converted from the infield. The problem was that Chirinos was 26 years of age, too old for a legitimate prospect who didn’t even see Triple-A until late July of 2010. Nevertheless, in a Rays system with no real catching prospect until you get down to A-ball, acquiring a nearly big league-ready catcher with any sort of upside was a godsend.
In 2011, Robinson Chirinos played to mixed results. In 78 Triple-A games, he posted a .259/.343/.376 line with 13 doubles, 6 homers, and 24 RBI, striking out 69 times versus just 29 walks in 78 games at Triple-A Durham, splitting time with primarily Jose Lobaton and Nevin Ashley at catcher. But when injuries decimated the Rays at catcher, they decided to call up Chirinos and he actually got off to a hot start, posting a .300/.378/.425 line in his first 15 big leagues games, before an 0 for 15 stretch in his final 5 games got him sent back down to Durham. His final numbers were not so impressive as he posted a .218/.283/.309 line with 2 doubles, 1 homer, 7 RBI, 13 strikeouts versus 5 walks, and no errors or passed balls at catcher but just a 9% caught stealing percentage in 20 games. Nevertheless, among a group of unimpressive catchers, he held his own for a time and had the best upside. The Rays hoped that he could get his plate discipline back up to par and hit for decent average and power while playing slightly above-average defense. Was it so much to ask?
If Chirinos was healthy, Chris Gimenez would not have been called up when Jose Lobaton got injured, and Chirinos would have been given a shot. With halfway-decent numbers, say a .230/.290/.350 line, he would have been the Rays’ best offensive catcher. How much could have helped? Not enormously, but maybe he could have helped the Rays win an additional game or two and you never know how that could have changed the Rays’ season. Losing Chirinos was not exactly a crippling blow for the Rays. But in a season where so many players went down with injuries, everyone’s absence counted and Chirinos can’t be excluded from that. The Rays hope Chirinos can fully recover from his concussion so they can finally see what type of player he has the ability to be in an extended big league chance. The Rays have been in dire need the past few years of any offensive production from the catcher position and Robinson Chirinos has a chance to provide that. Hopefully he can stay healthy and we’ll get so see what he can do.