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03/03/11 2:00 PM EST

Chirinos catches swing of things after switch

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Robinson Chirinos has the look of a classic backstop, sporting a solid build with good size at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds.

So it's difficult to believe he hasn't always been a catcher, but that's the case for the 26-year-old from Falcon, Venezuela, who began his career as an infielder.

On Jan. 8, Chirinos was acquired from the Cubs along with right-hander Chris Archer, outfielders Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer and infielder Hak-Ju Lee in exchange for right-hander Matt Garza, outfielder Fernando Perez and left-hander Zach Rosscup.

Chirinos first caught in the low Minors in 2008 at the urging of Cubs vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita.

"[Fleita] said it was going to help make my career longer," Chirinos said.

Initially, the move was difficult, particularly the different view of the field from behind the plate. He also had to get used to getting hit by pitches and blocking balls in the dirt.

"But I loved it," Chirinos said. "It sounds funny, but I tell my dad I love catching."

Chirinos adjusted to the new position quickly, earning All-Star honors and the title of Best Defensive Catcher in the Cubs' system by Baseball America in each of the two years since his switch.

And a funny thing happened after the move: Chirinos became a good hitter.

Personifying the metamorphosis from non-factor at the plate to threat was the game that took place on May 31, 2009. While playing for Daytona in the Class A Florida State League, Chirinos connected for two grand slams in the same game. Only one other player in Florida State League history had turned the trick. Charles Reidell did it on June 15, 1959 -- 50 years prior -- for the St. Petersburg Saints, a Yankees affiliate at the time.

The more Chirinos has caught, the better his offense has gotten.

He spent the majority of the 2010 season at Double-A Tennessee and advanced to Triple-A Iowa for the first time. Along the way, he set career highs in nearly every offensive category, hitting a combined .326 with 18 home runs and 74 RBIs. His .999 OPS ranked eighth among all Minor Leaguers and led all Minor League catchers.

"When I signed, I always said I was going to hit," Chirinos said. "But I had a hard time being consistent. Catching just allowed me to have a better idea about tracking the ball, like having a plan when I go up there to hit. I learn what plan the pitcher has."

A nice offshoot of Chirinos being a converted catcher is the fact he was taught the proper mechanics from Day 1. He did not have to first break bad habits established from years of catching the wrong way.

Chirinos said he learned from a bunch of great teachers, such as former Major League catcher Jody Davis.

"It was an advantage to learn from those guys," Chirinos said. "Davis played a lot of years in the big leagues, and he knows kind of what make me better and I learned quickly. I also say I'm going to be the best one, and it's going to come to me if I work hard."

Rays catching coach Bobby Ramos said Chirinos has made a "great impression" thus far.

"Good hands, good makeup, outstanding feel for the game," Ramos said. "He was an infielder. He's got soft hands and he's eager to learn. I can tell that."

Chirinos is excited about the opportunity he's getting with the Rays.

"I know it's a good thing for me," Chirinos said. "I have a chance to be around a lot of good players. And I'm going to do my best to try and make this team."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.