Who am I talking about? I will give you two guesses, and both could be right. The first name to pop into your head might be Joe Mauer, the Twins All-Star catcher who is still leading the Major Leagues in batting average. You would be right.
But if you answered Eli Tintor, you would also receive full credit. Eli Tintor grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, a Northern Minnesota city on the Iron Range. He was a great all-around football player who had a scholarship to play football at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He was also a great baseball player; a strong-armed catcher with a quick and powerful bat.
The Twins saw the athleticism and potential in Tintor and drafted him in the 18th round of the 2003 draft. Thirty years earlier, the Twins had drafted Eli’s father, Rick, with their 5th round pick. Like his father, Eli signed quickly with the Twins. He spent the rest of 2003 and most of 2004 with the Twins Gulf Coast League team. In 2005, he spent some time catching, but he became the main DH for the Appalachian League champion Elizabethton Twins.
2006 was a year of change for Eli Tintor. He spent his first season with a full-season affiliate, playing for the Beloit Snappers of the Midwest League. There was an adjustment to the full-season play, but he told me, “It’s the same mentality. You go into it wanting to play every day. I thought it would be fun to play a full season. I liked it.”
When asked what some of the differences between the Appalachian League and the Midwest League were, Tintor replied, “The pitchers hit spots better. They will throw breaking balls throughout the count. The game is just faster.”
Along with his progression up a level, Tintor also made a position change. After spending the first three years of pro ball as a catcher, he was moved to Right Field in 2006. It was a position he had not played since occasionally getting time there in high school.
“I just kind of fell into it (playing the outfield). I liked it because there was more running room. I liked to be able to go after balls hard. I still had that catcher’s mentality, to play the whole game.”
But Tintor really took to the outfield, and by season’s end he “just felt like it was right.”
Despite some big changes, Tintor put up very impressive numbers with his bat. He was second on the Beloit team with 116 games played. In all, he hit .285/.320/.429 with 19 doubles, two triples and 12 home runs. He was at his best the last two months of the season. In July, Eli hit .333/.381/.533 with three doubles and five home runs. In August, he .294/.339/.440 with five extra base hits. His season of change was quite successful.
His finest moments came in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs against Peoria when he hit two game-winning home runs in the three game series.
“I was just seeing the ball really good. That, and I was in 3-1, 3-0 counts where I could just sit on a fastball.”
Eli Tintor is currently at the Twins Instructional League camp in Ft. Myers. “I have heard that they want to help me get my power swing down and my swing established. They also want me to get some work in centerfield.”
For the rest of his offseason, Tintor plans to spend some time at home, but as he has the last three years, he will head back down to Ft. Myers after the New Year and start working.
Who knows? Maybe Eli Tintor will be the player in 2007 that starts in Ft. Myers and gets all the way to Minneapolis where he could join fellow Minnesota natives Joe Mauer, Pat Neshek and Glen Perkins on the Minnesota Twins roster.