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Game Thread: Twins @ Tigers 6:10pm cdt 9/22/2017 ad

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Backup Backstop Battle Royal?

The Twins new catching duo has helped elevate the pitching staff to respectability, but is it time to break up the backstop tandem of Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez? The veteran pair has drawn rave reviews for their leadership and ability to manage a pitching staff, but both are struggling to provide much offensive value.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports (photo of Chris Gimenez)
Castro has had some nice stretches, but overall his batting line heading into Thursday was .202/.304/.360. That should come as no surprise, however, as that’s nearly identical production to his 2016 campaign. Castro is who he is, the Twins knew exactly what they were getting into. He has his flaws, but he’ll certainly be the primary catcher for the foreseeable future.

Being a career .257/.355/.391 hitter against left-handers, Gimenez looked like a logical platoon mate for Castro. His defensive flexibility was also a plus when the Twins opened the year with a three-man bench, and his ability to pitch in an emergency doesn’t hurt his cause, either. After going 1-for-4 Thursday afternoon, however, the 34-year-old has a .195/.327/.268 line for the season. Altogether, Twins catchers ranked 20th in wRC+ (80) and 23rd in OPS (.646) heading into Thursday’s games.

By all accounts there are a lot of intangibles Gimenez has added to the Twins. It’s also worth noting that the team is 5-6 in games he’s started behind the plate, so it’s not like he is crippling the team. But considering how the Twins Triple-A catchers are performing, you have to wonder if maybe there is a better option to back up Castro.

Rochester One-Two Punch

Down in Rochester, Mitch Garver and John Ryan Murphy have split playing time right down the middle at 18 games each. Both are off to strong starts, as they rank as the top two hitters in OPS among current players on the Red Wings’ roster.

Garver, who is actually a few months older than Murphy, has been particularly impressive, hitting .255/.397/.473. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his .870 OPS would rank just outside the top 10 in the International League.

Murphy has looked much better than last season, posting a .232/.306/.446 (.780 OPS) line. His biggest advantage over Garver comes in terms of experience, having 141 big league games under his belt.

Murphy also has some better defensive numbers than Garver so far, besting him in caught stealing percentage (42 to 29) and passed balls (3 to 5), though Murphy has committed two errors and Garver zero. While neither is considered a liability in terms of pitch framing, they also don’t have reputations of being elite in that discipline either.

Three Catchers?

If the Twins were to replace Gimenez, I would expect Murphy would be the guy who got the call. It’s easy to forget he hit .267/.311/.374 over 284 plate appearances with the Yankees prior to falling on his face for the Twins last year. The team is trying to stay competitive, and Murphy is probably better suited to step in and contribute right away considering his familiarity with the league and the MLB pitching staff.

But, if the Twins were looking to add a third catcher, I’d imagine Garver would be the guy. If the Twins were looking to add a right-handed bat to the bench, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option than Garver down on the farm right now. Sure, it’s great to see ByungHo Park back, but he’s still not on the 40-man roster and has hit just .179/.179/.321 in seven games since returning from injury.

As much as I like the defensive upside of Ehire Adrianza, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have him and Eduardo Escobar on the same bench. Swapping Garver for Adrianza would give the bench some more offensive firepower and provide Paul Molitor with flexibility. Adrianza would likely get claimed on waivers, but the Twins do have Engelb Vielma, who is another similar player, on the 40-man roster.

I know a lot of people hate the idea of having three catchers, but Castro is so vulnerable against lefties (career .192/.254/.289 hitter off southpaws) that having the ability to pinch hit for him late in games could be a big asset. You’re never going to see Paul Molitor do that when he’s only got two catchers on the roster because the very last thing he ever wants to do is put his emergency catcher, Escobar, behind the dish.

Forgotten Man

It’s easy to forget the Twins could also be getting Stuart Turner back at any moment. The former third-round pick of the Twins was taken by the Reds in the Rule 5 draft this year, but he’s only gotten 27 plate appearances in Cincinnati's 39 games this season.

Turner was basically brought in to be insurance, but Devin Mesoraco is healthy and has caught back-to-back games a few times this month. Tucker Barnhart has filled in admirably as the Red’s primary catcher in Mesoraco’s absence the past two seasons. For now, the Reds are sticking with three catchers, but Turner’s days there could be numbered.

The Reds had to give the Twins $50k to acquire Turner, and if they were to remove him from their 25-man roster the Twins could get him back for $25k. Maybe the Twins would prefer to work out a trade and let the Reds keep Turner, who knows, but I suspect at some point they will have the opportunity to re-acquire him if they so desire.

Bottom Line

The Twins are off to a better start than expected and there seems to be a positive vibe in the clubhouse. Certainly much more so than last year. Gimenez has contributed to both those factors, so it’s probably premature to be talking about jettisoning him from the roster. But, if the team decides to go another direction, they have no shortage of options to back up Castro.


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43 Comments

To remove some of the catcher clutter, perhaps maybe the Yankees would offer to trade Aaron Hicks to get back JR?

    • Mike Sixel, LimestoneBaggy, Siehbiscuit and 6 others like this

If Stuart is returned to the Twins, does he have to be added to the 40 man?

To remove some of the catcher clutter, perhaps maybe the Yankees would offer to trade Aaron Hicks to get back JR?


Who?
    • jokin and d-mac like this

I think you let this play out for another month or two (i.e. closer to the trade deadline).

 

- there could be an injury (C or MI)

- Escobar or Dozier are a prime trade chip for a MLB for MLB type trade (for a SP) if the right situation aligns. Don't be in a hurry to get rid of a good utility IF (Adrianza)

- Gimenez's 45 PA (vs Castro's 100+) are not exactly killing the team

- Garver shouldn't be relegated to a non-catching role (3rd catcher/PH/DH) this early in the season

    • brvama, Willihammer, LA VIkes Fan and 4 others like this
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HitInAPinch
May 19 2017 12:53 AM

At some point, the Twins do need to see what Mitch Garver and John Ryan Murphy can do in the MLB.

    • Mike Sixel, Oldgoat_MN, KGB and 2 others like this

 

I think you let this play out for another month or two (i.e. closer to the trade deadline).

 

- there could be an injury (C or MI)

- Escobar or Dozier are a prime trade chip for a MLB for MLB type trade (for a SP) if the right situation aligns. Don't be in a hurry to get rid of a good utility IF (Adrianza)

- Gimenez's 45 PA (vs Castro's 100+) are not exactly killing the team

- Garver shouldn't be relegated to a non-catching role (3rd catcher/PH/DH) this early in the season

In that case, I'd bring up Murph, and let Garver get even more ABs and steady catching work- some of it with pitchers who may be Twins before long themselves.

    • Mike Sixel likes this

I think any claims about the Twins pitching staff being elevated are a bit exaggerated.  Phil Hughes 5.23 ERA, Kyle Gibson 8.20, Meija 5.79.  Hector Santiago 3.80 ERA is a reasonable surprise, but is almost exactly his career 3.84 ERA.  Amongst the starting rotation only Ervin Santana who had a career start to the season is doing better than their career average.

 

In the pen, the pretty much the same story.

 

I will buy the anecdotal evidenence that the catchers are working well with the pitchers but I think most of that is the pitching coaches job and I also doubt it makes up for these two players hitting 200 or below.

    • mikelink45, KGB, HitInAPinch and 2 others like this

I would like to see Garver come up.  We have had Ryan in enough games to diminish any hopes we might have.  The Yankee years are long gone and Garver has worked hard to earn a chance.  Garver is not young and more seasoning is not to the benefit of a catcher since we all know that most catchers regress in their 30s.  

 

I agree with mlhouse posting - the pitcher numbers are not showing that big Castro boost.  The pitch framing is not a cureall when the pitches are so far off that the people in the bleachers can call balls and strikes.

 

Let Garver sink or swim.  We all hope Rotverdt(?) will the the eventual answer, but by then it would be nice to see who can split time or back him up.

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Brock Beauchamp
May 19 2017 05:39 AM
They should call up the catcher that buys into the front office's plans and goals the best.

And if that catcher is Chris Gimenez right now, well then I guess he stays a bit longer.
    • HitInAPinch, howieramone2, Tom Froemming and 1 other like this

If Stuart is returned to the Twins, does he have to be added to the 40 man?


No, a returned Turner would not have to go on the 40-man.
    • Tom Froemming likes this

Nice piece, Tom.  I kind of like the your idea to go with three catchers, with the idea that it is an apprenticeship.  If Garver is going to be a part of the next winning Twins org, he needs to be up and participating.  Yeah, it would suck to have three, but the way you describe it kind of works for me, especially if Garver could DH a bit.  Didn't the Cubs roster 3 last year?  Anyway, this project wouldn't start quite yet anyway.

    • brvama and Tom Froemming like this
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Brock Beauchamp
May 19 2017 06:16 AM

For some reason I had it stuck in my head that Garver was a lefty but he's not.

 

In that case, another month or so in Rochester might be in order to see if his bat is legit and then consider giving him a bench spot. I don't like the idea of carrying three catchers but if one of them has the ability to hit, it's not such a problem. Still kinda hard to fit in another (essentially) no position player, though.

 

Garver's stat line looks nice but he still has only about ~150 PAs in Rochester and his career MiLB OPS, even with the nice AAA run, is still only .769.

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diehardtwinsfan
May 19 2017 06:47 AM

I like Garver as a prospect and think he could be an above average catcher, but I'd probably bring up JRM first.One, JRM has had ML success, and two, Garver hasn't spent much time in the high minors. 

    • brvama, howieramone2 and Tom Froemming like this
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Brock Beauchamp
May 19 2017 07:29 AM

 

I like Garver as a prospect and think he could be an above average catcher, but I'd probably bring up JRM first.One, JRM has had ML success, and two, Garver hasn't spent much time in the high minors. 

Yeah, I just don't have a strong opinion on this. Murphy *should* be a capable hitter but his defense is middling. Garver has a better reputation as a defender, though Murphy earned his reputation in MLB while Garver did it in MiLB. Hard to get a read on that with any kind of accuracy.

I like the idea of having Garver up with Castro to mentor him on the advance stats part of receiving while we still have Castro. My guess is that they (Falvey/Lavine) are trying to introduce the same systems in Rochester as we have recently heard about in the majors. My vote is to bring up Garver when he has learned some new things defensively so as to get mentored, get ready to take over and trade a catcher at the All Star Break...Just need one of the catchers to build enough value to get some value back...

I'd probably call up Murphy right now. Giving Garver another month in AAA, or two, isn't the end of the world.

 

but, I'd like Garver up this year at some point (no later than August, since September is a fake month unless you are in contention), because I believe he's the future catcher, and would like him splitting time with Castro next year, and probably taking over more fully in 2019. I know some don't want Garver up and sitting, but he'll be sitting a lot in 2018 too. At some point, he has to come up (assuming you think he's the future).

 

I agree, having Escobar and Adrianza on the roster seems redundant right now. If Murphy or Garver can hit at all, they can be a PH if one is needed.

    • jokin and Tom Froemming like this
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Brock Beauchamp
May 19 2017 08:17 AM

 

I agree, having Escobar and Adrianza on the roster seems redundant right now. If Murphy or Garver can hit at all, they can be a PH if one is needed.

Man, I just don't see it that way. Maybe they're redundant right this moment but I'm still not sold that this infield will be here in July, either due to trade or injury. Having both Adrianza and Escobar gives a lot of leeway in case of injury. Escobar can step in as starter at 3B, SS, or 2B and likely hold his own, leaving Adrianza as the futility guy.

 

It'd be nice if the Twins had an acceptable futility guy ready in the minors and Vielma might become that guy but he was only promoted to Rochester a few days ago. I'd stand pat with most of this roster for the time being.

    • bdodge22 and Tom Froemming like this

 

Man, I just don't see it that way. Maybe they're redundant right this moment but I'm still not sold that this infield will be here in July, either due to trade or injury. Having both Adrianza and Escobar gives a lot of leeway in case of injury. Escobar can step in as starter at 3B, SS, or 2B and likely hold his own, leaving Adrianza as the futility guy.

 

It'd be nice if the Twins had an acceptable futility guy ready in the minors and Vielma might become that guy but he was only promoted to Rochester a few days ago. I'd stand pat with most of this roster for the time being.

 

So, no calling up a 3rd catcher until the trade deadline? I could live with that, and understand it. But you have way more confidence that trades will happen than I do. Way more. I'm also not sure Adrianza is any better then Vielma (at least not enough more that it matters).

 

Interestingly, I think it more likely Escobar is traded than Dozier.

    • jokin likes this
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Brock Beauchamp
May 19 2017 08:33 AM

 

So, no calling up a 3rd catcher until the trade deadline? I could live with that, and understand it. But you have way more confidence that trades will happen than I do. Way more. I'm also not sure Adrianza is any better then Vielma (at least not enough more that it matters).

 

Interestingly, I think it more likely Escobar is traded than Dozier.

I'm also not sure whether Adrianza is any better than Vielma but the front office has obviously taken a shine to Adrianza. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing because Vielma is reportedly a polished infielder but if he came to Minnesota and started booting the ball and making stupid mistakes, he wouldn't be the first guy to do so (we all remember Hicks' early fielding difficulties in MLB).

 

All in all, I'm far more concerned with what's (not) happening in the bullpen than I am the catching situation. Gimenez is on track to finish the season with 200 plate appearances. Even if you replace a .600 OPS with an .800 OPS over that time, the actual win difference isn't a whole lot. Not that I'm saying the Twins shouldn't be looking for an advantage here and there, only that the likely difference between Garver and Gimenez is rather small, and that's assuming Garver is the defensive equivalent of Gimenez (a rather big assumption).

    • Vanimal46 likes this
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JaleelWhite FanClub
May 19 2017 08:36 AM

Great article and what a nice problem for the Twins to have!

 

The important thing I would think would be to promote either Murphy or Garver. Which one? I think if you're the Twins, you keep the one you see as the long-term starter in AAA to get the reps as the primary catcher (face LH and RH pitching). The other can be the platoon guy vs. lefties with Castro.

    • Tom Froemming likes this
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LA VIkes Fan
May 19 2017 08:37 AM

I think waiting until July makes sense both to see how the roster falls out with injury and production. Another factor to think about is that we really don't have anyone that has taken hold of the DH role. That would leave some of bats open for Garver should he be called up so he wouldn't simply sit on the bench. Ideally, if you were to do this Garver would be the second catcher, with Gimenez moving down to the third spot.

 

I'm also not sure whether Adrianza is any better than Vielma but the front office has obviously taken a shine to Adrianza. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing because Vielma is reportedly a polished infielder but if he came to Minnesota and started booting the ball and making stupid mistakes, he wouldn't be the first guy to do so (we all remember Hicks' early fielding difficulties in MLB).

 

All in all, I'm far more concerned with what's (not) happening in the bullpen than I am the catching situation. Gimenez is on track to finish the season with 200 plate appearances. Even if you replace a .600 OPS with an .800 OPS over that time, the actual win difference isn't a whole lot. Not that I'm saying the Twins shouldn't be looking for an advantage here and there, only that the likely difference between Garver and Gimenez is rather small, and that's assuming Garver is the defensive equivalent of Gimenez (a rather big assumption).

 

And as usual, I'm thinking WAY more about being ready for 2018 than this year. Do we think Gimenez will be here next year? If not, do we think Garver will be the backup? If so, and there are only a couple hundred ABs anyway.....why wouldn't Garver be here learning from Castro, getting used to being a MLB, and be truly ready to be the backup next year?

 

Conversely, if they think Gimenez will be the backup next year, they should maybe see if anyone wants to trade for Garver at this point.

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Brock Beauchamp
May 19 2017 09:17 AM

 

And as usual, I'm thinking WAY more about being ready for 2018 than this year. Do we think Gimenez will be here next year? If not, do we think Garver will be the backup? If so, and there are only a couple hundred ABs anyway.....why wouldn't Garver be here learning from Castro, getting used to being a MLB, and be truly ready to be the backup next year?

 

Conversely, if they think Gimenez will be the backup next year, they should maybe see if anyone wants to trade for Garver at this point.

I want to see Garver next year for sure, I'm just not really sure it's a question whether Garver can handle backup catching duties if the front office feels his defense is adequate.

 

Does it really matter if your backup catcher hits? I don't think it does. Even if Garver posts a .500 OPS in 2018 over 200 plate appearances, I don't know if I really care to "see what we've got" in 2017.

 

I'm not saying I don't think Garver should get a taste of MLB this season, I just don't know if it really matters right now. He could come up in July or even August and get some reps.

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Tom Froemming
May 19 2017 09:25 AM

 

I think you let this play out for another month or two (i.e. closer to the trade deadline).

 

- there could be an injury (C or MI)

- Escobar or Dozier are a prime trade chip for a MLB for MLB type trade (for a SP) if the right situation aligns. Don't be in a hurry to get rid of a good utility IF (Adrianza)

- Gimenez's 45 PA (vs Castro's 100+) are not exactly killing the team

- Garver shouldn't be relegated to a non-catching role (3rd catcher/PH/DH) this early in the season

I'm sure you're right. It's better to keep Gimenez and Adrianza in the org, and it's not going to hurt any of the alternatives to spend some more time down on the farm. But, it's pretty outstanding to look down and see every hitter on the 40 man currently in the minors is making something of a case for a callup (Garver, Murphy, Vielma, Palka and Granite).

 

We have had Ryan in enough games to diminish any hopes we might have.  

I don't know, Murphy only played 26 games with the Twins last year. It was bad, real bad, but I wouldn't completely give up on him just yet.

 

No, a returned Turner would not have to go on the 40-man.

Thank you for adding that. Seems there would be very little reason for the Twins not to want Stuart back basically for free. But who knows, maybe we could poach an intriguing arm from Cincy in a trade if they decide to send him down. It's an interesting situation to keep an eye on. 

    • howieramone2 likes this

"I know a lot of people hate the idea of having three catchers, but Castro is so vulnerable against lefties (career .192/.254/.289 hitter off southpaws) that having the ability to pinch hit for him late in games could be a big asset. You’re never going to see Paul Molitor do that when he’s only got two catchers on the roster because the very last thing he ever wants to do is put his emergency catcher, Escobar, behind the dish."

 

Man, I really hope this is still not an issue! As an actual risk, the numbers are so far from adding up to a legitimate concern that I would assume Falvey and Levine are way past this kind of Gardenhire era paranoia.

 

If you pinch hit for Castro in the 7th with Vargas and play Gimenez for two innings, what's the downside? The extremely low probability that Gimenze will get injured? And that Escobar -- or Mauer for that matter -- would catch a few innings?That seems so far from catastrophic as a worst case scenario, and so unlikely to occur anyway, that it pales in comparison to the very high odds of losing a game by letting Castro bat with men on base. Shouldn't you be more worried about losing a game by a needless but oh so predictable out?

 

And it's not like letting Mauer or Escobar catch two innings automatically loses you the game, either. The odds of a catcher injury in any particular inning are pretty small. The odds of Castro or Gimenez stranding the potential winning run on base are close to 80%.

 

It's like Gardenhire's phobia of losing the DH. So what? On a team that regularly started Jason Tyner at DH, you're worried about the tiny, tiny chance a pitcher might have to bat, due to a very unlikely freak injury? Even though it it's a big at-bat you can just pinch hit anyway and replace the pitcher?

 

There's a statistical term called Loss Aversion that refers to exaggerated worries about a potential loss blinding you to the opportunity of a potential gain. If there are two men on base, you're down by a run, and you bat Gimenez instead of pinch-hitting, because you're afraid that if you put Castro in the following inning he might get hurt, that's a text book example. It's like refusing to go outside because you don't want to get hit by a meteorite. The loss aversion you should feel is to losing the game, by leaving the winning run on second base when you had Vargas or Grossman on the bench!

 

And that's true even if you only had Escobar as a third catcher. But you also have Mauer. I'm all for moving Mauer out from behind the plate because of his concussion history. But to me that doesn't mean he's not available as an emergency fill in. The risk of catching for a year is too high to consider. But the rosk of taking a ball to the mask in any given inning are very small -- probably about the same as getting a concussion diving for a grounder, like Morneau did. A couple innings are no big deal. Especially if the only scenario in which you play Mauer is that both Gimenez AND Escobar got injured in the same few innings!

 

Anyway if you'reworried about concussions, the real ticking bomb is letting Buxton keep smashing into walls. That's a huge, huge fear of mine. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that any hopes of a future Twins' dynasty rest on Buxton and Sano. As it stands, I can't see Buxton surviving, the way he plays. I love his attitude but to me it seems like a matter of time before he goes the way of Koskie, Morneau, and Mauer.

 

And for what? If you look at the cost-benefit ratio of running full speed into a wall, it's not pretty. On the one hand. you're adding a tiny increase to the chance of getting an out that has a tiny chance of affecting a game that has a tiny chance of affecting the season standings. On the other, you're running a major risk of torpedoing the team's chances of ever making the World Series in the next ten years.

 

We take out pitchers based solely on pitch counts to reduce the chance of injury. And we should. Injuries are bad! Yet we don't tell players not to concuss themselves against walls, or tear up their hands sliding head first. In a truly analytically based franchise, these things would all be subject to rigorous cost-benefit analyses. Pointless, major risks would not be tolerated. And tiny risks with potentially large payoffs, like pinch-hitting for your catcher with men on base, would.

 

 

 

    • milldaddy35 likes this

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