For two seasons and a total of 80 games, Robinson Chirinos was known as an integral part of the double play combination for the Tennessee Smokies. However, when the 2009 season began, fans were looking around the infield with Chirinos not to be found.
He could not be found because he was donning a catcher’s mask. In the off-season Robinson had made the switch from middle infielder to catcher. Playing as an infielder most of his life, Roberto Alomar was a player he grew up following. With the switch to catcher, Robinson didn’t have to look very far to find the catcher he wanted to model his game after.
“When I started making the adjustment, it was Henry Blanco of the Cubs,” said Chirinos. “He was a great catcher and I was just trying to be as good as him.”
The 2009 season would be somewhat of a transition year for Chirinos as he learned the position but he still put up great numbers at single-A Daytona. In 69 games, Chirinos hit .300 with 11 home runs and 47 runs batted in. Then on August 4th, Chirinos returned to Tennessee for the first time as a catcher.
Robinson finished the season with Tennessee hitting .294 with 52 runs batted in. Heading into the 2010 season, he was garnering a lot of attention from the Chicago Cubs as he was beginning to flourish in the new position. When the Cubs started inviting players to spring training, Chirinos was one of the Tennessee Smokies who got the call for the first time.
In 2010, for the first time, Chirinos began the year in double-A with Tennessee. The career milestone seemed to give Chirinos extra motivation as he hit .379 with 3 home runs the first week of the season en route to being named the first Southern League Hitter of the Week for the 2010 season. The hot start to the season has caught the eye of everyone involved with the Smokies organization and Chirinos credits the position change for his success.
“I have more of an idea of what the pitcher is trying to do when I’m hitting,” said Chirinos.
So far through 20 games, Chirinos is batting .351 with 5 home runs and 18 runs batted in. The next series for Tennessee is against Chattanooga, a team that Chirinos is anxious to see again. In the first 5-game set against the Lookouts he went 6-14 with three home runs and seven runs batted in. You can listen to Chirinos and the rest of the Smokies take on Chattanooga on The Sports Animal WNML-AM 990, FM 99.1, 99.3 or here on smokiesbaseball.com.