Jeffers Shines in Big League Debut
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA TodayWhen the Twins drafted catcher Ryan Jeffers from UNCW in the 2nd round of the 2018 MLB draft, it surprised a lot of draft experts and Twins fans. He wasn’t known as a top draft prospect. He was known as a hit-first catcher who might not be able to play that position in the big leagues.This spring, Baseball America ranked him as the top defensive player in the Twins minor leagues.
Over the remainder of the 2018 season as well as the 2019 season, he climbed Twins prospects rankings. In fact, before the 2020 season, Twins Daily ranked him as the #7 Twins prospect.
This spring, he was invited to big league spring training in Ft. Myers for the first time. While he didn’t get a lot of at bats, he worked with the pitching staff and the big-league coaches. He also got to work with Mitch Garver and the veteran Alex Avila.
He was named to the Twins 60-player pool and has been working out and trying to stay ready in St. Paul. Ready for that call.
"Yeah, last night, our farm director, Alex Hassan, called me at like 11:30 and told me (that he was being called up). I was kind of following the game and saw that Garver did something to this side or whatever it was, so I was staying by my phone just in case. I got the call, and I was caught off guard, choked up a little bit, couldn't really find the words, but it was such an amazing feeling getting that call."
If it was after 11:00 central time, it was really late back home of North Carolina, but he still had to make a couple of important phone calls to make.
“(I) Talked to my parents and my wife’s parents last night, it was midnight back home in North Carolina, but I talked to both of them today, making sure they remembered our conversation from the night before.”
With Willians Astudillo now cleared, optioned, and working in St. Paul, it was a bit of a surprise that the Twins purchased the contract of Jeffers. But Rocco Baldelli made it clear how they feel about Jeffers and how he can help this Twins team.
The Twins manager said, “Ryan’s a guy that hasn't played a ton at the big league level. One night. But when you watch him go about his work behind the plate, in the clubhouse, at the plate with the bat in his hands, he is very confident and comfortable. He has a very good way about him, he works well with others. He’s a very intelligent guy, he’s very prepared for the game.”
After his masterful performance on Thursday night, pitcher Jose Berrios said that he was happy to have Jeffers catch him. Berrios said that earlier in the day Twins interpreter Elvis Martinez informed him that Jeffers was going to make his Major League debut.
Berrios responded excitedly, “That’s great!”
Baldelli said that Jeffers came to the ballpark early on Thursday, which is a good thing. “We wanted to get him here in plenty of time today to let him settle in and prepare for today's game.”
Berrios said that he met with Jeffers and (pitching coach) Wes Johnson, “We were on the same page.”
And that was proven throughout the game. Berrios said that he may have shook off Jeffers three times in the game. And, obviously, Berrios put together his best performance of the season, by far. The Twins starter gave up just one hit and one walk over six shutout innings. He struck out nine batters and earned his second win of the season while dropping his season ERA by over a run.
Jeffers gave most of the credit to the All-Star right-hander.
“His stuff was really crisp tonight. It’s easy to call a game when a guy is throwing what you want and where you want it. And all of his stuff was working, you could tell by the ABs the Brewers were taking that he was really keeping them off balance, really knew what his stuff was doing tonight, which was good. That Jose Berrios is a really, really, really good arm so we get him to do that every day.”
Jeffers also said that others helped him prepare to catch in his debut.
“They do a really good job getting us ready with all the information we need, and I had a good conversation with Alex (Avila), a good conversation with (Mitch) Garver, really talking about what he’s been doing well, what he hasn’t. Look at the Brewers lineup, going up and down that, just weighing everything and taking all the information as it comes, and just going out there and rolling with the game, seeing what’s working for Jose, and just going with the flow.”
Just going with the flow. In his big league debut. That’s a great mentality, but not easy. However, Jeffers noted that he’s been working and preparing for this night. He’s also been given opportunities from Twins Fest to Spring Training to Summer Camp, to get to know his teammates and coaches and get comfortable.
“There was a moment in the conversation between me and my wife where it started to become real, but for the most part, I just felt comfortable. Being over here for summer camp really helped me with my nerves today, I felt comfortable here, in the locker room, in the clubhouse, on the field with the guys. For me it was just another day of baseball. Everyone says, just go out there, it’s the same game, and it really is. That’s how you have to treat it every day.”
When Jeffers was drafted, scouts around the game knew he could hit. However, each Twins scout that saw him also thought he was good or even better-than-good defensively. But that was one big question for many in the scouting industry. Could he catch?
The Twins believed he could when they drafted him, but after his pro debut in 2018, it was clear that they were right. His pitch framing numbers were fantastic, but he kept working. He worked with then minor league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson, and worked a ton this spring with Michael Thomas who took over that role when Swanson left for the Yankees.
Jeffers is much more than just a strong defensive catcher. In the bottom of the third inning, Jeffers came to the plate to face hard-throwing Brandon Woodruff with one out and Ildemaro Vargas on third base. Not an easy situation for his first big-league plate appearance.
Jeffers said, "I knew he had a good fastball and he was probably going to come at me with it, and just seeing that early and seeing that come out. They've done a really good job preparing us on the St. Paul side to get over here and feel comfortable in the batter's box. I just got in there and just did me. I felt good. I was seeing the pitches well. I was just doing my best to put the ball in play and drive that run in."
And that’s just what he did, driving a single past Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia to give the Twins a 1-0 lead.
His manager was excited about and impressed with that first at bat as well.
“He went up there, and he’s also facing one of the better pitchers in all of baseball, too. It’s not like he was going up there against a guy who’s an easier at-bat. This is a very difficult at-bat in a big spot and game. But again, his ability to kind of avoid distraction and just focus on what he can handle and stay relaxed. He has a lot of characteristics of what we’d just call ... he’s a baseball player.” Baldelli continued, “But watching him go up there and get his first knock in a big spot, we all think it’s cool. It’s just a wonderful feeling for all of us, him mostly. But every time you see a guy go up there and achieve that feat, it’s pretty awesome.”
In the bottom of the fifth inning, he came up with one out and no one on. Again, a five-pitch at bat ended with a line drive single out of the reach of Arcia.
Jeffers fouled out to end the bottom of the sixth inning. Then in the bottom of the eighth inning, he was hit by a pitch.
In doing so, he became the first Twins player to reach base three times in his debut since Brian Dinkelman (now the Cedar Rapids Kernels manager) did in 2011.
A Twins Daily writer asked Jeffers if he got the baseball from his first hit and if he had any plans for it yet. Jeffers reached into his back pocket and pulled out two baseballs.
“I got both of them in my pocket right now. They've got these little silver stickers on them. I'll probably put them on a shelf somewhere and hold onto them pretty tight.”
His manager was pretty impressed with the 23-year-old’s debut. Baldelli said, “He brought it out there on the field. He did a great job behind the plate. He’s a guy that knows what’s going on in the game; his awareness level is very high. We got to see all of that come together. Seeing him work with Jose Berrios that well on day one is a tremendous sign for things to come.”
Asked to try to reflect on where he’s come over the last few years, Jeffers noted. “It's been awesome. It's been a wild ride from walking on at UNCW, spending three years there, really establishing myself there, and then getting drafted and going through the Minors the first year and then last year. Then, coming in this year and not being really sure of the plan and how COVID was going to affect the season and affect everything. I found myself in St. Paul, and finally getting the call to come over here and do what I can to help this team. So it's been a wild ride. It's been an awesome ride. I'm excited to keep it going.”
Twins fans should be excited too.
Picking a favorite memory for today and this game would be difficult. “There's so much I could say. Walking up to the plate for the first time and hearing your name called. Going out there and having José throw the way he did. Getting that first RBI. There's so many memories from tonight. I'm going to cherish all of them.”
Less than two years after being a surprise second round pick, he has arrived in the big leagues. Interestingly, the second overall pick in that 2018 draft was catcher Joey Bart from Georgia Tech. Bart made his MLB debut on this same night for the San Francisco Giants. Bart had a double in four at bats in his debut.
Find out more about Ryan Jeffers in the links below:
- Twins Select Ryan Jeffers in the Second Round of the 2018 Draft (June 2018)
- Get to Know Twins New Catcher Ryan Jeffers (June 2018)
- Twins Minor League Hitter of the Month - July 2018 (July 2018)
- Catching Up with Ryan Jeffers (Feb 2019)
- Twins Daily 2019 Top Prospects: #13 Ryan Jeffers (Feb 2019)
- The Twins 2018 Draft Class is Loaded with Talent
- Twins Daily 2020 Top Prospects: #7 Ryan Jeffers (Feb 2020)
- Twins Announce Non-Roster Spring Training Invites (Feb 2020)
- Twins Announce 60-Man Player Pool for Summer Camp (June 2020)
- Episode 18: Get to Know Ryan Jeffers (June 2020)
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