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Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Catcher

One year ago, the catcher position was in a serious state of flux for the Twins. Starter Jason Castro was entering his last season under contract. Mitch Garver was still seeking to fully establish himself. Willians Astudillo was a complete wild card.

Today, the Twins can confidently count themselves as one of the strongest teams in the league at catcher, if not No. 1 on the list.
Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Projected Starter: Mitch Garver
Likely Backup: Alex Avila

Depth: Willians Astudillo, Tomas Telis
Prospects: Ryan Jeffers, Ben Rortvedt

THE GOOD

When analyzing this position last spring, I called Twins catchers a collection of "promising question marks." Then, the backup Garver went on to enjoy a breakout year of epic proportions. This spring, in the words of MLB.com's Mike Petriello, "there's only one question Twins fans are interested in: Can he do it again?"

Petriello's article notes that Garver's emergence in 2019, while out-of-nowhere, carried plenty of legitimizing traits: he ranked sixth among MLB hitters in hard-hit rate, seventh in average exit velocity, 14th in barrels per batted ball, and rated as one of the best fastball hitters in recent history. There was nothing misleading about Garver's spectacular results last year – he took terrific ABs and hit the ball hard consistently, thus he did tons of damage.

Not only that, but Garver made massive strides defensively, implementing changes in technique to go from a 5th-percentile pitch framer to the 80th percentile (per Baseball Prospectus) in a one-year span.

There isn't much, other than the ingrained skepticism from watching many isolated "breakouts" come and go, to suggest Garver is due for overwhelming regression in 2020. He figures to be a solidly above-average starter at the very least. But even if he doesn't lose a step, the Twins have made clear they are going to limit his game reps in efforts to preserve his body for the long haul. So a quality timeshare partner is needed, and it appears the front office identified a good one.

Avila could be viewed as a question mark I suppose, in the sense that he's a newcomer, but he's about as established and reliable a commodity you could ask for in this role. He's played in the majors for more than a decade, has a good rep as a receiver, and is accustomed to learning new staffs, having played for four teams in the past four years.

As a part-time backstop facing mostly right-handed pitching, Avila will be an asset. He's one of the league's more patient hitters and a fine producer at the dish. He's only here for one year, but that's by design.

Jeffers has solidified his standing as Twins catcher of the future. He finished at Double-A last year and could very well get a look in the big leagues this summer. All signs are very encouraging with the 22-year-old at this time. ("I think he's getting to the point where he becomes an option for our Major League team if we need him at some point in the near future," Rocco Baldelli said recently.)

THE BAD

The Twins suddenly find themselves quite dependent on Garver. They have the offensive firepower to succeed in his absence, but he's certainly become a key part of their lineup. The drop-off at catcher is immense from starter to backup, in a way that is probably unmatched across the rest of the roster.

That's almost always going to be the case when you have an elite starting catcher, but depth is a bit of a murky issue. Avila would be palatable but stretched as a starter. Astudillo lost much of his luster in 2019, posting a sub-700 OPS as pitchers began to routinely exploit his extreme lack of discipline. Telis is next in line and while he's played in the big leagues a fair amount, he has hit .230/.267/.298 there.

It's not that the Twins have especially shallow depth at catcher. There's just not much to get excited about after Garver until Jeffers is ready, which is probably a ways off. And while the incumbent enters this season in good health, his history reminds us how dangerous his position can be.

In 2018, Garver missed most of September after suffering a concussion on a foul-tip. And last summer, he suffered a high ankle sprain on a scary home-plate collision. In both cases he was fortunate enough to avoid more serious trauma, and the Twins do an admirable job of protecting him to the extent they can, but there's only so much to be done. Playing catcher in the major leagues might be the most dangerous job in pro sports this side of the NFL.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Twins have a top-tier starter, a qualified and complementary veteran backup, and a high-caliber prospect nearing readiness in the pipeline. There's not much more you an ask for. Minnesota is poised to have an advantage over virtually every opponent at catcher.

Much hinges on people staying healthy. And as we know all too well, that can never be assumed at this position. So with fingers crossed (and mitt perfectly positioned to receive a pitch on the edge of the strike zone), we proceed with the best laid plans.

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12 Comments

Let's not assume that Jeffers is next in line.Yes, he has made tremendous improvement the past year, plus.But Rortvedt just may surprise most of you and be the one to earn the #2 spot in 2021 or 2022.

 

 

    • blindeke, JoshDungan1 and wabene like this
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Richard Swerdlick
Feb 25 2020 04:21 AM

Great article. I wonder what Tomas Tellis's role is, if any, in regards to the big club. Insurance?

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Doctor Gast
Feb 25 2020 07:07 AM

Garver does a great job in conditioning which has kept him from any serious injury. But like you said catching is a demanding & wearing position. Avila is a fine back up & it`s nice to have Astudioas a 3rd. Jeffers & Rortvedt should be held on to no matter what for near future back ups

 

Let's not assume that Jeffers is next in line.Yes, he has made tremendous improvement the past year, plus.But Rortvedt just may surprise most of you and be the one to earn the #2 spot in 2021 or 2022.

 

I agree. I know the OP is talking mostly about offense in this article but Rortvedts defense is very, very good and he was holding his own with the bat in AA before some minor injuries seemed to impact him.Also don't forget he needs to be added to the 40 man at the end of this year as well so if he is doing well and there is a catcher to be added I think it will be him.  

 

Hopefully Jeffers continues his climb because if we need to add Rortvedt at the end of the year and want to add Jeffers at some point as well then Avila will have to move on and they will have to make a decision on the turtle as well.Granted those decisions don't have to happen until next year but looking ahead it is something to think about.

    • Dave The Dastardly and wabene like this

It's a sign of how deep this team is and how well our development has gone that the only significant concern at catcher we have this year is "What if Mitch Garver gets really hurt?"

 

3/4 of the teams in baseball would kill for our situation. We have an elite starting catcher, a veteran backup who compliments our starter almost perfectly, a super utility player who can serve as the 3rd catcher on the roster, and 2 solid catching prospects in AA either of whom are possible contenders for the backup job in 2021. About the only way this gets better is if a) Garver already had another elite hitting season under his belt so people are less worried about regression, B) either Rortvedt or Jeffers was already in AAA, and c) we had a hot catching prospect in Cedar Rapids as the next one in the pipeline. These are all luxury items in a league where so many teams get very little production from the catcher position.

    • Nick Nelson, jimbo92107, Carpetboy and 5 others like this

 

Great article. I wonder what Tomas Tellis's role is, if any, in regards to the big club. Insurance?

 

If there was an injury the first half of the season, he would be the guy called up. Jeffers and Rortvedt need time. Telis hit .330 last year in AAA and has played in parts of 5 seasons in the big leagues. He's nice insurance. 

 

Well, depending on how long the catcher was out. If it was really short-term, they could get by with Astudillo as the #2. 

    • tarheeltwinsfan and JLease like this

Garver's the man. Avila is what he is, a good backup catcher that hits LH. Avila holding a spot for Jeffers/Rortvedt. I am not a Astudillo fan, average at best defensively and did not hit last year with poor plate discipline, position flexibility overrated. Will probably see Garver #1 next year with one of Jeffers/Rortvedt #2, with the other one on 40 man roster playing at AAA.

    • KFEY93 likes this

 

About the only way this gets better is if a) Garver already had another elite hitting season under his belt so people are less worried about regression, :cool: either Rortvedt or Jeffers was already in AAA, and c) we had a hot catching prospect in Cedar Rapids as the next one in the pipeline. These are all luxury items in a league where so many teams get very little production from the catcher position.

 

I wouldn't sleep on Jair Camargo, who came over in the Maeda trade, having a breakout in his age-20 season. Jim Callis tweeted that he has "plus raw power, some of the best exit velos in LA's system, strong arm as well."

    • Sconnie, DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan and 2 others like this

 

Garver's the man. Avila is what he is, a good backup catcher that hits LH. Avila holding a spot for Jeffers/Rortvedt. I am not a Astudillo fan, average at best defensively and did not hit last year with poor plate discipline, position flexibility overrated. Will probably see Garver #1 next year with one of Jeffers/Rortvedt #2, with the other one on 40 man roster playing at AAA.

Finally someone with a good head on their shoulders. Astudillo is a meme and thats about it, liability whenever he is in the line up. I wish he was gone. 

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jorgenswest
Feb 25 2020 07:05 PM
One measure gave a more optimistic look at Astudillo’s performance last year. BP’s DRC+ has him at 95. Below league average certainly but better than other players that on the bench like Cave(89) and Gonzalez(92). Avila was at 96.

There are several factors here but one is the context of the set of pitchers he faced which were much more difficult to hit than Cave’s group.
    • Sconnie likes this

It's hard to see a down side to this catcher situation, other than the inevitable process of entropy slowly grinding all human endeavors to dust. 

 

Otherwise, I'm pretty chipper about it!

    • wabene likes this

This is the biggest question for the Twins- can Garver hit nearly as well as last year. Of course, Castro didn't add much offense but was a good framer. Garver has improved his defense and will probably hit around .280 with 25 home runs. That should be ok. Avila has had some decent years and could surprise a bit. Backup catchers are out there if one of these gets hurt so I'm not worried about that. 


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