Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’17 — #9 Manny Piña

SINGLE DIGITS!

Our long winter is nearly over, Brewer Nation. We’re under 10 days away from Opening Day at Miller Park! There will be much in the way of news coming from camp in Arizona this next week as the roster comes into focus.

One of the players who no longer has to worry about his chances to make the team is the subject of today’s “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” column…

Manny Piña.

Originally signed in 2004 by the Texas Rangers as an amateur free agent, the Brewers are Piña’s fifth MLB organization. He spent five years as a Rangers minor leaguer before being traded to the Kansas City Royals. Piña would play four years in KC’s system including a combined five games in two seasons (2011–12) in the big leagues. To call it a cup of coffee might be an insult to cups of coffee.

Piña would continue to chase a trip back to the Majors with Seattle in 2014, though they would trade him to Detroit mid-season that year. The Tigers employed Piña for roughly a year and a half before he was named later in a trade to the Brewers for Francisco Rodriguez.

When 2016 began, Piña was viewed as a veteran backstop that should provide good depth in the system behind the long-time big league catching tandem of Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. The time came on August 1st, following the trade of Lucroy to the Rangers, to see whether the choice of Piña as the PTBNL was a wise one.

Despite the Brewers also having just acquired Andrew Susac in a separate trade deadline transaction, Piña got the call to join Maldonado in no small part because he had put up a .329/.371/.506 slash line with five homers and 43 RBI over 63 games with the Triple-A affiliate Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Piña did okay in his two-month audition at the end of last year. He hit .254/.346/.394 in 81 plate appearances and was fine enough behind the plate. Piña had a reputation of not being the best at blocking up pitches in the dirt, which proved true in the short-term, but was otherwise acceptable. He was right at league-average in throwing out basestealers, as an example.

Here’s an anecdote from the end of the year that tells you how much Piña appreciated his opportunity in Milwaukee. The Brewers called up an extra catcher in Josmil Pinto seemingly at random. Speculation was that someone was injured, but it turned out that Piña was set to be away from the team due to the birth of a daughter. There was no Paternity List designation because it’s September so it’s easy to cover with existing personnel. However, the baby was born on Tuesday and Piña was back with the team for the game that evening.

So, enter 2017. Piña entered Spring Training out of minor league options and suddenly in a three-man competition with Susac and the imported Jett Bandy who was acquired when the Brewers decided to part ways with Maldonado. I viewed Piña as the likely backup before camp began due to being out of options. No reason to risk losing a capable catching option when whoever didn’t win the other big league job between Susac and Bandy could start at Triple-A.

Well, all Piña has done this spring is slash .419/.432/.814 in 43 Cactus League at-bats. He’s cranked out four home runs among his 18 hits and is pushing to not just make the team but to get the start on Opening Day. Since we know by now that Junior Guerra will take the ball for the Brewers in nine days, it would be the first time an all-Venezuelan battery would start on Opening Day in the National League if it happens. That is something that wouldn’t be lost on either man.

Piña is controlling what he can control. As things stand today, that’s plenty good enough to make this team.

Follow Manny on Twitter: @mannypina28

#59 Carlos Torres
#57 Chase Anderson
#56 Ryan Webb
#54 Michael Blazek
#53 Jhan Mariñez
#52 Jimmy Nelson
#51 Damien Magnifico
#50 Jacob Barnes
#47 Jett Bandy
#46 Corey Knebel
#45 Tyler Cravy
#41 Junior Guerra
#38 Wily Peralta
#37 Neftalí Feliz
#35 Brent Suter
#33 Tommy Milone
#29 Yadiel Rivera
#28 Jorge Lopez
#27 Zach Davies
#26 Taylor Jungmann
#25 Michael Reed
#24 Jesús Aguilar
#23 Keon Broxton
#22 Matt Garza
#21 Travis Shaw
#18 Eric Sogard
#16 Domingo Santana
#14 Hernan Pérez
#13 Andrew Susac
#10 Kirk Nieuwenhuis