Minnesota Has the Best Catcher in the Bronx
Image courtesy of © Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY SportsYou won’t have any trouble finding glowing stories about the New York slugger. Sanchez was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, and he consistently popped up on top 100 prospect lists through his time in the minor leagues. A two-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year runner up, Sanchez owns an .846 career OPS and surpassed the 100-home run plateau this past season. Just about to turn 27, it’s Sanchez that is often thought of as the premiere backstop in baseball.
With a breakout 2019 season under his belt, Mitch Garver threw all of that for a loop. I’ve described Garver as “The best catcher in baseball” when tweeting out his exploits on a regular basis. What may have started out as somewhat in jest has become a ringing endorsement of talent that holds serve with the high praise. Following a decent showing during his 2018 rookie season Garver went to work over the winter, and it is paying off in any more significant way would likely be impossible.
At the end of the regular season Rocco Baldelli had played Garver in 93 games. He was given regular rest sprinkling in veteran Jason Castro, and he missed time after a Shohei Ohtani slide into home put him on the Injured List with an ankle injury. When the dust settled on those 93 games, Garver posted a .995 OPS. In Minnesota Twins history only four players have posted a higher single-season OPS: his teammate Nelson Cruz, 2009 MVP Joe Mauer, 1977 MVP Rod Carew, and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew (twice). Mitch ripped 16 doubles, which is a modest total on its own, but launched a Twins record 31 dingers (30 as a catcher) with a nutty .630 slugging percentage.
When stepping into the batter’s box Garver brought his lumber and terrorized opposing pitchers. He’s been a bat first player for most of his career though, and it’s what he did behind the plate that elevated his game and stature in baseball’s landscape. After posting a -16 DRS and -9.2 FRM (framing runs) in 2018 he jumped those results to 0 DRS and 0.8 FRM in 2019. Working with Tanner Swanson over the offseason he focused on controlling the bottom of the strike zone and exponentially increased his effectiveness by percentage of called strikes.
During the ALDS press conference on Tuesday afternoon Cory Provus asked Garver about the work he put in and if he was happy with where things wound up from a defensive growth standpoint. Mitch answered, “I think about that a lot.” He talked about the importance of stealing any extra strike and how you may quantify that. There’s a level of importance that plays into all facets of the game based on how each pitch is received. Garver also noted that “the confidence level from a manager to put you back there knowing the work I put in is translating to the game, I think that shows a lot. Having a manager that can trust you behind the plate, that’s kind of more important than all of those things (referring to defensive metrics).”
Whether Mitch is in the lineup for every game of the series or not, it will be the time he’s on the field that his ability can truly take the spotlight it deserves. Sanchez has gotten the accolades while playing in the mega-market that is New York. The Yankees “Kraken” is the longball leader since he entered the league. Going into 2019 it was a good bet that he’d return to Silver Slugger status and regain his place at the peak of the position. For now, though it’s Garver’s chance to show he heads the conversation and currently carries the torch.
Minnesota is often a secondary thought when it comes to national discussions. The smaller market that Minneapolis is will never trump the costs, and regardless of the press that this Bomba Squad has driven, individual contributors will fall by the wayside. For the guy from Albuquerque that has had to grind for everything he’s earned, that’s probably all fine and well. Over the course of this series though, Mitch Garver can allow his play to overshadow even the largest of markets. If and when those moments come it will be good for him, because he’ll have earned it.
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