Gabriel Lino has been a pleasant surprise in the early going this year. The 22 year old catcher was acquired in 2012 along with RHP Kyle Simon for 1B Jim Thome. At the time Lino was very raw with plus power and a plus arm, to go along with some swing and defensive issues. He hit ok in 2012 with Lakewood posting a 9.5% BB% and 22.3% K%. The following year he was sent to Williamsport where a high BABIP hid underlying problems. In 2014, he was promoted to Clearwater due to injuries and had a bad statistical year while keeping a lot of base numbers, fairly solid.
This year has been a bit of a breakout as his strikeout rate dropped dramatically and his walk rate rebounded to rates closer to his 2011 breakout in the GCL. He still has plus raw power and has been able to get to it a bit more with the increased contact rates. So far in 2015 he is batting .266/.333/.431 with a 8.1% BB%, 20.3 K%, and a .313 BABIP. He is unlikely to hit for a high average because he does strikeout a good amount.
His biggest improvements have been on defense. He still has a plus or better arm and has put it to use catching 15 of 31 baserunners. He is also quick to back pick runners at both second and first base. His receiving used to be a disaster, especially blocking balls in the dirt, but he has been improved in that area and is more willing and able to move to keep the ball in front of him. I worry some about his framing and receiving on breaking balls, but he has shown that he can be quiet in the zone on fastballs.
It is still hard to say that Lino has a major league regular profile because there are still some issues with swing and miss and defense. Lehigh Valley will be a good test for him because of the better off speed pitches he will face (a big weakness in the past). His likely outcome at this point looks to be a second division regular or backup who will hit .240ish with 10+ home runs a year given a full catcher workload. He likely will never be a defensive specialist, but in the current depressed offensive environment, that is a fairly valuable major league piece.