Conversion Complete For Rays' Chirinos





PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Robinson Chirinos looks like he will be a pretty good catcher. It just took seven years as an infielder to figure it out.

Chirinos was a middling middle infielder in the Cubs system when he heeded the suggestion of Chicago vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita to move behind the plate during the 2008 season.

"I picked it up pretty quickly," Chirinos said. "It's kind of funny. I say maybe I was born for catching."

Not only did Chirinos quickly become a good catcher, but he also became a better hitter, improving on the .252/.342/.402 average he posted in his first nine seasons to peak last season with a .326/.416/.583 average between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. The  26-year-old racked up career-highs with 18 home runs and 74 RBIs, and posted an impressive 44 walks to 33 strikeouts.

"I have more of an idea what pitchers are trying to do," he said. "I have a plan when I go to the plate."

The Rays—who acquired Chirinos in the Matt Garza trade in the offseason—have big plans for him, likely starting the year at Triple-A Durham and in putting him in line for a callup should the Rays need help at the big league level.

He already showed the Rays what he could do, hitting .429 with two homers and eight RBIs in 12 spring training games before being sent down, with a to-do list that will get him ready whenever his opportunity arises.

"He's a converted catcher and he's got some things to work on," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We like him a lot. He's going to be a big part of our future, but you want to make sure everything is taken care of once he gets here.

"He's the kind of guy that once you get here, you want him to stay and not shuttle back and forth."

COOL RAYS

• Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, another part of the Cubs deal, reported to minor league camp and is likely headed to high Class A Charlotte, with strong endorsements from his former minor-league teammates. "He's a good one,'' outfielder Brandon Guyer said. "Definitely keep your eye out for him; he can play."

• The Rays made a $10,000 donation to the Japanese relief effort, and will match up to another $15,000 of donations collected at Tropicana Field for opening weekend.