As they say, a change of scenery can do wonders for a player struggling to find a niche with an organization.
Catcher Gabriel Lino has certainly found his niche, working his way up to the everyday catching role for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals after a strong month of April.
Lino, who went through minor league free agency for the first time in his professional career this past offseason, had little doubt about signing a minor league contract with the second most winning team in baseball history on December 12, 2016.
“I spoke with my agent, who told me it was a very good organization,” Lino said through translator Oscar Mercado inside the Springfield clubhouse before Tuesday’s game. “They give players a lot of chances to succeed and always competing for championships, so I wanted to be a part of a winning environment and somewhere where I would get a lot of opportunities.”
And that they have.
Since the start of the road trip at NW Arkansas (KC), Lino has seen increased time behind the dish, and the results have followed at the plate.
Through 14 games, the 6-foot-3, right-handed hitting, 200-pounder has a .320 batting clip (16-for-50) along with two home runs and three multi-hit games since seizing the reins as the primary backstop.
“I have been working hard, trying to stay focused,” Lino said. “Being a free agent helped me think things over. I have focused a lot on my defense and offense. It’s paying off for me, so I’m just trying to stay focused.”
The success has come as a result of letting the ball get deeper and having quiet at-bats against the opposing pitchers. Lino said not chasing pitches out of the zone has allowed him to see the ball better.
The Venezuelan native was originally signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Baltimore Orioles and is best known for being involved in the Jim Thome trade to the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline back in 2012.
The 23-year old took a step back in his development in his final two seasons with the Philadelphia system, hitting for a career-low .234 and .236, in 2015 and 2016, respectively, before leaving as a minor league free agent last fall.
Lino shows a good approach and plus raw power, though his swing can get long and off-speed stuff gives him fits. Defensively, the catcher has a very strong throwing arm, flashing good defensive tools. Not surprisingly, his big frame causes him to struggle to corral pitches in the dirt.
Lino does not have any specific improvement targets other than his offense and defense, but his ultimate goal remains the same.
“I want to be a big-leaguer,” he added. “That is something for whenever it happens, that is my goal.”
Lino's thoughts on catching a loaded rotation
On Jack Flaherty: “Obviously, he has a really good feel for all of his pitches, but I don’t try to change anything for myself or the other pitchers. I know everyone's strengths and weaknesses and try to call their game accordingly.”
On handling Sandy Alcantara’s 100 mph heat: “You just have to be really focused because it is a lot of movement, so it is a matter of locking in and making sure that I am focused in 100% percent.”
On Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson, and Matt Pearce: “They have all improved a lot since the first few starts, and they keep getting better every start. That is all I can really ask of them. They all just go out there, work hard, and perform.”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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