Milwaukee Brewers: Opening Day Roster Spot Finally Belongs to Manny Pina

Few people had heard of Manny Pina when he was acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers in December of 2015, and now he could be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

One of the fascinating components of baseball is the seemingly regular occurrence of players “coming out of nowhere” make it to the big leagues. Milwaukee Brewers‘ catcher Manny Pina appears to be one of those guys.

Pina came over from the Detroit Tigers when Francisco Rodriguez was shipped to the Motor City. It was viewed mostly as a depth addition, because you can never have enough catchers in the organization.

Now, the Milwaukee Brewers announced last week that Pina will be on the roster to open 2017. It’s the first time the 29-year-old Pina will begin the season on an MLB club. It was a dream come true for the Venezuelan native who nearly retired after the 2014 season.

According to Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy, Pina called his mom when he found out the great news:

“She started crying.” Pina continued, “Wow. It’s amazing. Every year, I’m fighting, fighting, and then the last week of Spring Training, I’m sent to Triple-A. It is the best news I have received in my life.”

Pina had been a part of a three-way competition for two spots, along with Jett Bandy and Andrew Susac. Bandy is a favorite among many in the organization – and with Susac dealing with an injury for much of the spring – it would appear Bandy will also be with the Brewers on April 3rd.

Susac and Bandy have minor league options available, which actually gave Pina an advantage. If the Brewers didn’t keep him on the 25-man roster, he would have been exposed to the rest of the league and likely claimed from the Brewers.

However, Pina’s inclusion for Opening Day had everything to do with his skill and performance. In 18 spring games, Pina has hit .422 with a 1.257 OPS. That includes 4 home runs, 6 doubles and 13 RBI. Those numbers jump out when coming from the game’s most demanding position.

While Pina had been recognized as a strong defensive catcher, there was little to be desired from his bat more of his career. That’s likely why he never sniffed Opening Day, collecting just 17 MLB plate appearances back in 2011 and 2012.

Pina caught 141 innings with the Brewers last season and had a 28% caught stealing mark. The average in baseball in 2016 was 27% overall.

In those seasons, both with the Kansas City Royals, Pina was rated as the organization’s best defensive catcher. He continues to have that rep, showing off a strong, accurate arm to nab base runners. He has thrown out 37% of would-be base stealers in the minor leagues during his career. That’s a number that puts him near the top of the league.

Pina caught 141 innings with the Brewers last season and had a 28% caught stealing mark. The average in baseball in 2016 was 27% overall.

On top of his quality ability in cutting down runners, Pina had the advantage of working with most of the Brewers pitchers last year. Both in Triple-A Colorado Springs and in Milwaukee, Pina learned the staff and built a rapport.

His familiarity with the staff – especially Opening Day starter Junior Guerra – certainly gave him an edge in the catching battle.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers catcher Manny Pina talks with pitcher Junior Guerra against the Cincinnati Reds. Photo Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

But it was his improved offense that intrigued GM David Stearns enough to ask for Pina in the trade. What started as an upward tick turned into an eye-opening explosion in 2015.

Having made some mechanical adjustments with his hands and stance, Pina batted .305 with an .840 OPS with Detroit’s Triple-A club.

He also did a better job of making contact and drawing walks at a higher clip. Pina’s production went up again in 2016 in the Brewers organization with an .849 OPS and 28 doubles.

Even in his limited time in the majors last season, Pina proved he had found what worked for him at the plate. He boasted a .346 OBP in 81 plate appearances, drawing 10 walks compared to 15 strikeouts.

Pina’s offensive growth carried right into Spring Training this year. Those gaudy stats made the decision easy for Stearns and manager Craig Counsell. The only thing missing was a few walks. In fact, Pina hasn’t walked all spring.

But that wasn’t going to be a determining factor in his fate. He will be lining up on the first base line at Miller Park for all of the Opening day festivities.

Counsell hasn’t said if Pina will start game 1 of 162 – and he will likely split playing time evenly throughout the year.

However, it’s been a terrific story of perseverance and hard work that got him the opportunity.

Should Pina see his name penciled into the starting lineup on Opening Day, he’d be catching a fellow Venezuelan in Guerra. They teamed up as battery mates only two times with the Milwaukee Brewers last year. In 2017, you can expect to see that a whole lot more – and Pina couldn’t be happier.