Cubs' Chirinos Getting Noticed Behind The Plate





CHICAGO—After spending his first eight seasons in the Cubs minor league system with mixed results and never playing higher than Double-A, Robinson Chirinos might finally be catching on.

In his ninth season in 2009, the 25-year-old moved from the infield to the catching spot. And the .247 lifetime hitter's average jumped to .300/.400/.546 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 69 games for high Class A Daytona and .257/.373/.343 in 12 games with Double-A Tennessee in 2009.

He was even hotter playing winter ball in Venezuela. Through 48 games, he was hitting .366/.420/.641 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.

The Venezuela native is getting a long look from the Cubs brass. Farm director Oneri Fleita is pleased with Chirinos' situational hitting and patience, and has been impressed with his conversion.

"He just started catching," Fleita said. "It's new to him. His hitting is where it should be because he moved from Double-A ball to Class A ball. We expected that.

"But he's come a long way catching. He's blocking the ball well. He's throwing well. It's not easy learning to become a catcher for the first time. It's easier said than done."

Chirinos, who signed with the organization in 2000 when he was 16, was considered an average infielder in recent years and the Cubs saw a few things in his game that led them to believe he could move behind the plate.

"We saw real good feet and real good hands," Fleita said. "He has a great arm and a great release. He has a good-looking, durable body. All the skills were there."

In recent years, the Cubs minor league system was not considered talent-rich in the catching department. But Geovany Soto worked his way up to the majors and a group featuring Chris Robinson, Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo and Chirinos has turned out to be strong. A decent spring training could put someone from that group in position for a callup in the event of an injury.

Cubbyhole

• The Cubs made a flurry of offseason changes in minor league managing and coaching personnel. One of the moves was Jody Davis moving back to short-season Boise, where former Cubs pitcher Jeff Fassero will be pitching coach.

• While there is plenty of talk about Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg's quick ascension of the organization's ladder (he's now Triple-A Iowa's skipper), there is another boss to keep an eye on. Casey Kopitzke, 31, will move up from Boise to become low Class A Peoria's manager.