The scenery is different for Pinto this season. He's on the club's 25-man roster, and he's making an impact with his bat. As it was when he began his career, Pinto's defense is still a work in progress.
The right-handed-hitting Pinto is a squat 5-foot-11, 210 pounds. That weight reflects work he has done to shed some 30 or more pounds since signing with Minnesota. It shows Pinto's dedication at improving his agility and footwork behind the plate.
Pinto began his career as a rookie in the Venezuelan Summer League. He played for a team shared by the Twins and Blue Jays. In Pinto's 224 plate appearances, he had 49 hits, including seven doubles, a triple and three home runs on his way to a .251 average.
Pinto remained playing at the Rookie League level for the next three seasons. He emerged with Beloit in Class A in the Midwest League at age 21. That was in 2010.
Pinto's bat didn't heat up until 2012, when he hit a combined .295 for Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain. He hit 14 home runs and knocked in 60 runs over 445 plate appearances. Included were 26 doubles and three triples. Pinto had turned 23 and was serving notice that he carried a serious bat.
Last season, Pinto played for Double-A New Britain again and at Triple-A Rochester. Combined, he hit .309. Pinto's doubles increased to 32 and his homers to 15. Scouts and Twins personnel started taking note of his power and his ability to make loud, solid contact. Pinto struck out only 83 times while earning 66 walks, an outstanding ratio in his 528 plate appearances.
Given his improvement at the plate, Minnesota elected to put Pinto on its 40-man roster to protect him in the Rule 5 Draft in December.
After a slow start to his career, the stocky Pinto made his presence known with an ability to hit higher level Minor League pitching. He hit over .300 in 2013 against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. In fact, Pinto hit .317 against righties.
When I saw Pinto this past spring, he favored his pull side as a right-handed hitter. I think as time goes on, he will begin to wait back a bit longer and use the entire field -- especially center field.
The hustling Pinto doesn't get cheated at the plate. He is appropriately aggressive with an ability to see his share of pitches and selectively choose those offerings he feels he can drive. It is very difficult to intimidate Pinto with a bat in his hand.
Defensively, I think Pinto's greatest challenge remains blocking balls in the dirt that come up short at the plate. His mechanics include solid pop time from his crouch to his throwing position. Pinto has a strong and accurate arm, making footwork refinement his greatest challenge. In his Minor League career, Pinto threw out 33 percent of runners trying to steal.
Pinto's promotion to Minnesota came in 2013 as a 24-year-old September callup. That was just the prologue to the entire production. Now, a few months later, he is a viable member of the Twins' 25-man roster, getting at-bats and playing solid enough defense.
Pinto's challenge will be to learn how to shepherd his pitchers through a nine-inning game while not losing the offense that put him on Minnesota's map.
Pinto can become a central figure on a Twins team that will continue to be challenged to score runs in a pitcher-friendly home environment.