As far as rookie seasons go, Ronny Paulino couldn’t have asked for much more back in 2006. The then-Pirate catcher batted .310/.360/.394 in 481 PA. He posted 2.6 Value Wins as a 25 year-old, and with fellow youngster Ryan Doumit seemingly always afflicted with one malady or another, his future job security looked solid in the Steel City.
Paulino’s line was batting average-fueled (.367 BABIP), but he had gradually shown more thump as he climbed the minor league ladder to the ‘Burgh. He slugged in the high-.400’s between AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis over the 2004 and 2005 seasons, and at 6-2, 240, some hoped that the big-bodied backstop would learn to put more of a charge into the ball (fun fact: Paulino is the third-heaviest player to have 50% or more of his defensive innings come at catcher, per Baseball-Reference; Carlos Maldonado is first and Shanty Hogan is second).
Instead of building upon his initial success, Paulino turned in a very mild sophomore campaign in ’07. The bottom fell out of his batting average spike, and his wOBA declined from .330 to .309. Little changed in his plate discipline (he walked about 7% and whiffed near 17% in both seasons), but his BABIP fell to .297, and with it, his average (.263). He displayed a little more pop, but we’re speaking in very relative terms: his ISO increased from .084 to .127.
2008 saw Paulino fall completely out of favor with the Bucco organization. His commitment and conditioning were questioned, and he posted a wretched .260 wOBA in 130 PA. As Doumit was establishing himself as the long-term answer behind the dish (health permitting), Paulino was unceremoniously whisked away to AAA Indianapolis, where he at least took out his anger on International League hurlers (.306/.373/.550 in 126 PA) after recovering from a sprained right ankle.
Feeling that Paulino was no longer worth the trouble and a 40-man roster spot, the Pirates shipped the 27 year-old to the Phillies this past offseason in exchange for another tepid-hitting catcher, Jason Jaramillo. Paulino didn’t stay Philly property for long, however, as he was recently sent on his way to San Francisco (for Jack Taschner) only to be flipped to the catching-starved Marlins for pitching prospect Hector Correa.
Paulino will have a greater opportunity to soak up some playing time (and some sun) with the Marlins, who were planning on marching forward with John Baker. Baker possesses a dose of on-base ability and didn’t embarrass himself in limited play last season, but a platoon certainly suggests itself: Baker is a career .277/.350/.433 minor league hitter versus right-handers, with a patient-but-punchless .263/.356/.333 line versus southpaws.
Conversely, Paulino has licked lefties in the majors (.355/.417/.498) while floundering against righties (.252/.301/.343). The Dominican Republic native takes some truly painful AB’s versus northpaws: he’s easily baited into chasing the slider off the dish, which only compounds the plate coverage issues caused by his very open batting stance. According to his ESPN player page, Paulino hit .128 versus pitches thrown down and away last year.
With only Baker in his way and Florida’s prized catching prospect (Kyle Skipworth) in the nascent stages of his pro career, Ronny Paulino has the opportunity to re-establish himself as a guy capable of donning the tools of ignorance on a daily basis. However, he’s going to have to stop looking like a fish out of water versus right-handers if he wishes to become more than the lefty-bashing side of a platoon.