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Article: Standing Pat as a Strategy

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Article: Rundown: On Trading Kepler, DRC+, LeMahieu and More

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Non-Twins Off-season news, tidbits and transactions

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Harold Baines and Lee Smith are Hall of Famers

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Is Mitch Garver Still a Catcher?

In a dispiriting 2018 season that was direly short on bright spots, Mitch Garver was unequivocally one of the best stories, progressively improving over the course of the summer and posting an .814 OPS in the second half.

But a concussion suffered in September casts a cloud of uncertainty over the 27-year-old's future. For Twins fans, the familiarity of this feeling makes it all the more unsettling.
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
To play professional sports is to put your body at risk. This is understood. But there are varying degrees of tolerable risk, and past a certain threshold, it becomes irresponsible to put a human being in harm's way. I'm not sure where that threshold lies with respect to Garver and his specific situation.

I do know this: When Joe Mauer made the call to move away from catcher after a concussion ended his 2013 season, he talked about coming face-to-face with a sobering reality:

"When I kept gathering information, to be honest with you, it wasn't really even a decision," said Mauer, who is signed through 2018 with $115 million remaining on his contract. "I kept searching to see if it was going to be OK, if it was going to be safe for me to go back there and catch, and I just wasn't finding that."


He added: "All it could take is one foul tip in pitcher's batting practice, and I'm out for two or three months or even more."


Unstated there is the impact on his personal life and his overall wellness. Even though he shifted away from catcher, Mauer experienced prolonged after-effects from his brain injury, which ultimately led him to retire well ahead of schedule.

Garver was watching from the dugout when Mauer dove for a fly ball in May, flaring up those nasty concussion symptoms. Garver saw from up-close as Mauer then battled yet another round of life-altering impairments, which sidelined him for a month and were so severe initially he had to spend multiple days away from the stadium.

Whatever stories and warnings Mauer heard about the dangers of successive concussions in 2013, Garver has seen first-hand since, torturing a player he deeply respects and admires. The gravity of this situation couldn't possibly be lost on him.

Granted, Mauer had caught a lot more innings behind the plate, and had probably taken quite a few more foul tips off the mask. But this isn't about comparative volume. There's no magic number where the risk becomes untenable.

Garver does have a troubling history.

In his first game this season, he was hit in the side of the head by Manny Machado's bat, leaving Garver staggered and dazed. He wasn't diagnosed with a concussion in that case. "My brain does not hurt, but my skull does, however," Garver said afterward.

He did acknowledge in September, though, that he suffered concussions at least twice in the minors, in 2014 and 2016. And although he stayed in to finish the inning after taking a foul tip off Luke Voigt's bat on September 12th (as did Mauer back in 2013 – he finished the game in fact), Garver hasn't donned the catcher's gear since.

When you're still experiencing symptoms a week after taking a blow to the head... that's a scary thing.

The Twins, for their part, seem to be preparing themselves for a scenario where Garver is unavailable behind the plate. Their reported early interest in Robinson Chirinos, who signed with the Astros on Tuesday for $5.75 million, is noteworthy. Chirinos isn't the kind of guy you bring in as a third catcher or as camp competition; he's an established big-leaguer who's averaged 300 plate appearances with the Rangers over the past five years, with a career OPS (.761) that bests Garver's rookie mark.

If Garver were to move away from catcher, it becomes a question of how he figures into the team's plans. At catcher, his numbers were outstanding: Among MLB backstops with 300+ PA, he ranked 10th in OPS (.749), 10th in wOBA (.325), and seventh in hard-contact percentage (40.5%, per FanGraphs). At first base or DH, those numbers don't shine as much, and of course, the Twins already find that mix crowded with defensively limited righty hitters at the moment.

Then again, you can make an argument Garver's bat is quite valuable to the Twins wherever they can fit him in.

I wrote recently about this club's glaring dearth of OBP strength, which wasn't helped any by the signing of Jonathan Schoop on Thursday, nor the addition of Ronald Torreyes. Garver's .335 OBP this year ranked as the second-highest among players set to return, behind only Jorge Polanco (.345). And if you believe Garver turned a corner as he acclimated to the majors, you might even expect more; from June 1st onward he had a .349 OBP and 9% BB rate.

It bears noting that in his preceding breakout season at Triple-A, Garver posted a .387 OBP and 13.4% BB rate over 372 plate appearances.

With all that said, it's pretty hard to see him hanging around as strictly a 1B/DH. Does he have the offensive ability of a C.J. Cron or Tyler Austin? Doubtful. And those were readily available waiver types.

In order to keep himself essential while not catching, Garver would need to become a versatile roster piece capable of helping in the outfield. In that capacity, his right-handed stick would actually be quite useful amidst a crowd of lefty swingers in the corners. And Garver did make 14 starts in left field at Rochester last year. However, Paul Molitor was never inclined to use him out there, and understandably so. Given his lack of speed or experience, it's hard to imagine Garver being much of an asset in the outfield.

If you find yourself lacking for clarity after reading all this, that's kinda the point. Garver is one of the team's most intriguing young players, but also a total wild-card at this juncture.

The tight-lipped Twins have been mum about his status. But if their interest in Chirinos was legit and serious, perhaps that says all we need to know.

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43 Comments

An evolution in catchers head protection that goes well beyond the current state seems past due.
    • lecroy24fan, glunn, brvama and 4 others like this

I am sorry to read about this speculation.If Garver is not able to catch he is really not valuable to the Twins future.A very sad thought.

An evolution in catchers head protection that goes well beyond the current state seems past due.


Absolutely! Football, at any level, has not found a perfect solution to helmet protection as of yet. But there have millions of dollars spent spent developing and testing different helmets and padding to help. Back in the day, remember some of the big foam exo-helmets?

Baseball needs to examine better gear NOW for all catchers. Were I a professional catcher, I'd be looking at wearing the latest football helmet with the most up to date facemask padding I could find.

Every athlete responds to the rigors of their sport, and injury, differently. Simply because we are all built differently. For Garver's sake, and the Twins, I hope he is fine. I never bought in to the sometimes exposed mantra of "he's too told to be a real prospect". I think he could have a really nice career behind the dish as a solid receiver with a much better than average bat. Even if Castro is 100%, I see Garver as the starter with Castro as a productive, experienced and knowledgeable platoon partner.

Hoping for the best. And hoping this will be a small blip not worrying about. But I'd be contacting Bike, or Riddell, or whoever makes helmets these days looking for the best protection I can find.
    • lecroy24fan, glunn and Dr. Evil like this
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AlwaysinModeration
Dec 07 2018 05:25 AM
I think the answer is yes. In the last month of a lost season after suffering a September concussion, it seems very prudent to keep him away from the tools of ignorance. But I fully expect him to be sharing catching duties with Castro this year.

As for Chirinos—perhaps the front office is considering either of the current catchers in trade packages?

And yes, agree that catcher’s need better protection, better helmets. There should also be very serious penalties for batters hitting catchers on their follow-through swings. It one of the reasons I think batters should have to keep two hands on the bat during their swing.
    • glunn likes this

Excellent article, Nick.And one which doesn't have an answer and won't, until spring training.We will then learn whether Garver remains a catcher.If he does, expect he can be their starter.If he isn't, I see either he or Austin making the 25-man roster.All is subject to change should there be additional moves over the winter at catcher or first base.

    • Nick Nelson and glunn like this

Hopefully, Castro comes back and is healthy and can at least hit his weight. Not sure where this will leave Garver in the team's plans. The concussion issue certainly is a big concern. I like Astudillo, but more as a utility guy rather than someone who can be a reliable starter. Then again, why not give him a chance too? Or maybe we need to look beyond Plan B and opt for a Plan C or D.

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ChrisKnutson
Dec 07 2018 07:59 AM
Castro’s not gonna be around in 2020, Jeffers and Rortvedt may still be in the minors, and I’m not sure what to expect Astudillo, sooo what’s the plan here?? Still holding out hope that Garver can stay behind the plate, but realistically we’re probably gonna need expensive “backup.”

Then again, ‘if’ Sano rebuilds his stock next season, maybe he could involved in some sort of blockbuster revolving around him and New York’s Gary Sanchez next offseason.

What a fantastic article!Thanks, Nick!

 

Two things not directly related to the article:

1) Is there a better adjective to describe the 2018 season than 'dispiriting"?

2) Is it just me or does Manny Machado "inadvertantly" hit catchers with his back swing often?

    • Thrylos, blindeke and rdehring like this

They need to eject, suspend, and fine hitters who hit catchers with back swings, not unlike pitchers who intentionally throw at hitters.

 

That will help a lot with concussions.

    • glunn, diehardtwinsfan, brvama and 6 others like this

 

They need to eject, suspend, and fine hitters who hit catchers with back swings, not unlike pitchers who intentionally throw at hitters.

 

That will help a lot with concussions.

Amen.A team is penalized if a batter interferes with the catcher on a ball in play.Shouldn't the team be penalized if the batter hits a catcher in the head with his bat?I'm looking at you, Adam Jones.

    • glunn and Taildragger8791 like this

 

Absolutely! Football, at any level, has not found a perfect solution to helmet protection as of yet. But there have millions of dollars spent spent developing and testing different helmets and padding to help. Back in the day, remember some of the big foam exo-helmets? Baseball needs to examine better gear NOW for all catchers. Were I a professional catcher, I'd be looking at wearing the latest football helmet with the most up to date facemask padding I could find. Every athlete responds to the rigors of their sport, and injury, differently. Simply because we are all built differently. For Garver's sake, and the Twins, I hope he is fine. I never bought in to the sometimes exposed mantra of "he's too told to be a real prospect". I think he could have a really nice career behind the dish as a solid receiver with a much better than average bat. Even if Castro is 100%, I see Garver as the starter with Castro as a productive, experienced and knowledgeable platoon partner. Hoping for the best. And hoping this will be a small blip not worrying about. But I'd be contacting Bike, or Riddell, or whoever makes helmets these days looking for the best protection I can find.

They are making strides in better catching gear.Tyler Flowers is part owner of what is supposed to be the new revolution of catcher masks, Force3.

 

https://www.cbssport...th-head-trauma/

    • Nick Nelson, glunn and DocBauer like this
I've suggested moving him to 1B, RF, and DH since last fall. Then they acquired Cron. So I'm guessing he's a catcher.
    • bobs likes this
Castro will be the main catcher still in 2019 so Mitch will get to prove himself a bench bat. Then we approach 2020. But if Garver can’t catch we have Willians. they need to fix the gear!
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terrydactyls1947
Dec 07 2018 09:15 AM

All catchers should switch to hockey goalie-type masks.Goalies get hit in the head far more often than baseball catchers and yet the occurrence of a concussion is rare.The design of the goalie helmet deflects the impact of direct hits.The traditional baseball catcher mask does not.

    • laloesch and Original Whizzinator like this

Castro will be the main catcher still in 2019 so Mitch will get to prove himself a bench bat. Then we approach 2020. But if Garver can’t catch we have Willians. they need to fix the gear!


If Garver is a catcher, I hope he's the main catcher. He can actually hit.
    • Thrylos, big dog, Sconnie and 3 others like this

 

They need to eject, suspend, and fine hitters who hit catchers with back swings, not unlike pitchers who intentionally throw at hitters.

 

That will help a lot with concussions.

If the batter is in the batters box, it's the catcher responsibility to move back enough so he doesn't get hit in the head. 

    • lecroy24fan and gunnarthor like this
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RatherBeGolfing
Dec 07 2018 09:56 AM

 

I am sorry to read about this speculation.If Garver is not able to catch he is really not valuable to the Twins future.A very sad thought.

 

Yes, from a pure baseball standpoint: it's odd to say because Garver isn't even that great of a catcher (ok offensively, not great defensively) but that is his only value to this team. If he can't catch, there is zero reason for him to be on our roster

    • mikelink45 and gagu like this

 

All catchers should switch to hockey goalie-type masks.Goalies get hit in the head far more often than baseball catchers and yet the occurrence of a concussion is rare.The design of the goalie helmet deflects the impact of direct hits.The traditional baseball catcher mask does not.

 

It's also worth noting the fact that a baseball has a much broader surface to create an impact whereas a hockey puck (unless it's tumbling) is much narrower.

I think the Twins are fine with him as C but if there is another concussion then what....I think they are more worried about the next one ending his C career.

Unfortunately, his bat really doesn't play anywhere else. Didn't Josmil Pinto have this problem a few years ago?

Has Castro suffered concussions?
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diehardtwinsfan
Dec 07 2018 11:31 AM

problem is that if concucssions and catching is a concern, you'll end up with no catchers. I think at this point, Garver is still a catcher. He's one of the spots I'm not too worried about. Offensively, he's well above a typical catcher, and his defense seems to be catching up. 

    • SF Twins Fan, Original Whizzinator and DannySD like this

I hope he's ok.

 

If he can catch, he's a nice player. If he can't...he hits like Kepler. Great behind the plate, not so great in other positions.

 

Would be a shame if concussions drive him out from behind the plate (and possibly out of the league). I'd like to see him as the primary catcher the next 2-3 season.

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terrydactyls1947
Dec 07 2018 12:20 PM

 

It's also worth noting the fact that a baseball has a much broader surface to create an impact whereas a hockey puck (unless it's tumbling) is much narrower.

 

I'm not sure what the point is but just let me add that a frozen, vulcanized rubber puck shot at 100 MPH creates a much harder impact than a cork wrapped in yarn and covered with horsehair even if it is thrown 100 MPH.

    • Original Whizzinator likes this

I'm not sure what the point is but just let me add that a frozen, vulcanized rubber puck shot at 100 MPH creates a much harder impact than a cork wrapped in yarn and covered with horsehair even if it is thrown 100 MPH.


As someone who was a hockey goalie and led his high school team in HBP they both hurt if you're hit in the wrong place! Never was concussed playing hockey, and ironically did get concussed colliding with my teammate chasing down a Texas league fly ball. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to prevent concussions. They just happen on the ice, field, or court.
    • KGB and SF Twins Fan like this

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