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Twins Position Battles: Backup Catcher

While much of the Twins 25-man roster might be pretty well set, there are a few position battles of note. As spring training rolls along, some of them will become more clear. It’s also possible that others could create additional position battles. We’ll certainly be covering those through the spring.

One of those position battles that we’ll likely hear a lot about is the backup catcher position. Jason Castro will be the starter, and he will likely start between 110 and 125 games. So who will start the other 35 to 55 games?
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA Today (photos of John Ryan Murphy, Chris Gimenez, Mitch Garver)
There are three catchers vying for the backup catcher spot, so let’s consider the pros and cons of each.


CHRIS GIMENEZ

Let’s start with the most veteran of the group, Chris Gimenez. Thad Levine and Derek Falvey spoke a lot about wanting more veteran leadership on the roster. Gimenez is 34 and has spent parts of the past eight seasons in the big leagues. Over the last three years, he has played for Texas and Cleveland, meaning that Falvey and Levine are very familiar with him.

In 684 career at-bats, he has hit .218/.297/.335 (.632). The 68 games he played for Cleveland was his career high despite hitting just .216/.272/.331 (.602). While Gimenez is really the definition of a replacement player, he certainly has some intangibles beyond the leadership qualities. Paul Molitor has said that Gimenez will likely play the corner infield and maybe the corner outfield positions this spring. Last year, he played first base and third base, along with catcher. He DHd a few games, and he even pitched twice.

Behind the plate, he is solid. He has thrown out 28% of would-be base-stealers in his career, and 29% last year. His pitch framing should be considered about average.

Since Gimenez was signed in January to a minor league deal, he can be sent to Rochester to start the season. It is uncertain if Gimenez has an opt-out in his contract.


JOHN RYAN MURPHY

Murphy is the incumbent, at least in a way. After coming to the Twins in an offseason trade from the Yankees, Murphy was handed the backup spot a year ago. For many - yours truly included - the assumption was that over time Murphy would gain more playing time. Instead he was back in AAA a month into the season. And things didn’t go real well for him in Rochester either. He came back in September and did a little better.

Murphy is 25 years old. He has spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Before last year, he was the backup to Brian McCann with the Yankees. In his career (344 at-bats), he has hit .238/.283/.337 (.620). However, before he hit .146/.193/.221 (.413) for the Twins last year, he had hit .267/.311/.374 (.685). In 2015, he played in 67 games for the Yankees and hit .277/.327/.406 (.734) as a 24-year-old. That’s a lot of triple-slash lines, but the purpose is to show that there is plenty of reason to believe that Murphy can and will hit some in the big leagues.

Murphy is a quality defensive catcher. He is a good pitch framer, and he has a strong arm. In his career, he has thrown out 30% of would-be base-stealers.

Murphy is on the 40-man roster. He also has one option remaining.


MITCH GARVER

Garver has worked his way up the Twins farm system since the team drafted him in the ninth round in 2013. And “worked” is the correct word. He was the Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2014 when he played for the Kernels. In 2015, he spent the season in Ft. Myers with the Miracle. He began 2016 in big league camp as a non-roster invite to spring training.

While he has continued to get stronger and work on his offensive game, Garver has made his biggest strides defensively. He has gone from what some called below average defensively to now being considered an above average defensive backstop. That was very clear in 2016 when he split the season between AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester. He was one of the best in minor league baseball in pitch framing, and he threw out 48% of would-be base-stealers. He’s always had a strong arm, having thrown out 38% in his minor league career.

He might be the best combination of offense and defense of the group. In 95 games at AA last year, he hit .257/.334/.419 (.753) with 25 doubles and 11 home runs. He ended the season with 25 games in Rochester where he hit .329/.381/.434 (.815) with five doubles and a homer.

Garver can also give the Twins some versatility. In 2016, he caught 60 games and played first base 16 times. Because of his bat, he was in the DH spot in most other games.

There are a few things that he has going against him in this competition. First, he has zero MLB at-bats at this point, and one could say that he has just 25 games in AAA. He was just added to the Twins 40-man roster in November. So he has all three option years remaining.


SUMMARY

Nothing can be made of what we’ve seen so far in spring training games. Garver and Murphy have five plate appearances, and Gimenez has three. Murphy and Gimenez have each made one start behind the plate. Garver hasn’t, but he has played in three of the games to just two for Murphy and Gimenez.

There is a lot of spring training remaining, and all three should get a lot of opportunities to play. All three have a legitimate opportunity to make the Opening Day roster, at least I would think and hope they would. It may come down to the end.

So, what factors do you think will help Paul Molitor and the front office decide who will make the Opening Day roster? How would you rank the likelihood of each option?


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100 Comments

I'm too lazy to look it up, but what "handedness" do each hit?Also, does Garver have "remaining options" issues?

 

Absent those considerations, I'm inclined to start Garver at AAA, not only for his growth, but keeping experienced catchers in the majors may help that pitching staff.

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twinssporto
Feb 27 2017 11:32 PM

Good article.  Thanks for the information...based on what was written I hope we go with the the youth movement.  I would prefer to see Murphy or Garver get the nod.  

    • mikelink45 and MN_ExPat like this

We should make sure to give Garver enough playing time, which won't happen in the majors. So I would choose between Murphy and Gimenez.

    • Twins33 and Oldgoat_MN like this
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HitInAPinch
Feb 28 2017 03:09 AM

Gimenez seems like the kind of guy you're team is either:

  1. A rebuilding team that's a long ways off
  2. A contending team that still needs a backup catcher, but want to save a little in payroll

Garver is already 26.Need to push him.

Plus:Castro is a left-handed hitter and hits lefties poorly.Garver is a righty hitter.Better combo.

 

Really wish Murphy had turned out to be a better hitter....

 

    • Mike Sixel, dgwills and Dave The Dastardly like this
I would think Garver is the starter in Rochester. Molly is probably worried about a slow start out of the gate and impact on young psyches so start with Giminez as the Twins backup. This leaves Murphy in AAA so they mix and match there until somehing happens. #1 Twins play well enough that Giminez isn't needed for the vet stability angle. #2 One of the AAA catchers distinguish themselves to garner a call up. #3 Injury occurs
    • Vanimal46 likes this
I'd be curious to know just how well Giminez actually plays the corner infield and outfield positions. He sure doesn't hit much, but if he was solid defensively at those 4 additional spots, it could increase his value.
Castro is our veteran presence we don't need Giminez. Garver plays a lot in AAA and Murphy is the backup. Reevaluate in June.
    • Steve Lein, birdwatcher, Mike Sixel and 15 others like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Feb 28 2017 07:51 AM
Murphy deserves another chance based on his offensive production with the Yankees.

 

Castro is our veteran presence we don't need Giminez. Garver plays a lot in AAA and Murphy is the backup. Reevaluate in June.

Gotta agree with this evaluation.

Gimenez seems like the kind of guy you're team is either:

  • A rebuilding team that's a long ways off
  • A contending team that still needs a backup catcher, but want to save a little in payroll
Garver is already 26.Need to push him.
Plus:Castro is a left-handed hitter and hits lefties poorly.Garver is a righty hitter.Better combo.
 
Really wish Murphy had turned out to be a better hitter....


JRM and gimenez both hit rh as well. That's no advantage for anyone.

JRM should not be defined by last year. He has hit before and I'd say he's a better hitter than gimenez.

I'm too lazy to look it up, but what "handedness" do each hit?Also, does Garver have "remaining options" issues?
 
Absent those considerations, I'm inclined to start Garver at AAA, not only for his growth, but keeping experienced catchers in the majors may help that pitching staff.


All are RH and garver has no options issues.

Agreed on garver in AAA, want to see him catch a lot.
    • Tom Froemming and caninatl04 like this

 

Castro is our veteran presence we don't need Giminez. Garver plays a lot in AAA and Murphy is the backup. Reevaluate in June.

 

Bingo. 

If JRM can't beat out Gimenez, then frankly I don't have faith he'll ever make an impact on this team. No need to have 2 veteran presences at the same position.  

    • USAFChief and Dave The Dastardly like this

Garver is my pick - this line "He might be the best combination of offense and defense of the group." says it all for me.  He is 26 - its time to move on and see him in the majors, this is not a young man like Ben Roverdt who needs time to develop.  

 

Giminez as a replacement level player is not moving the bar, but I suspect that FO and Molitor will lean to the vet despite our cries for open competition and the future. 

    • DocBauer and Dave The Dastardly like this
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twinsfan220
Feb 28 2017 08:38 AM

I'm still holding onto hope (as futile as it may be) that the Murphy trade will bear some fruit. That being said, I'd also be more than happy to see a kid like Garver earn that role.

    • Oldgoat_MN and MN_ExPat like this

I hope the Twins take the Rangers' advice, realize where they are in the rebuild, and act accordingly. Stop hoping that "if A, B, and C work out perfectly, we might be good". Play either Murphy or Garver.

 

Some say "Garver has to play every day"....well, he won't likely be asked to do that next year, either, assuming Castro is healthy. How many years will you hold him back, so that he can play every day in AAA? 

 

If Garver is the best player among the three, he should be up. If it is Gimenez, what would you learn/see from him playing every 3 days, to know if he's good/bad, that you don't already know?

    • USAFChief, Dantes929, DocBauer and 3 others like this
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Brock Beauchamp
Feb 28 2017 09:01 AM

I understand why Gimenez got a ST invite - need all teh catchersssss - but I don't understand why he's in the conversation for the 25 man roster.

 

Murphy is the pretty obvious solution for backup catching duties. He's a decent defensive catcher and has offensive potential. It won't kill Garver to spend a bit more time in Rochester playing every day.

 

If Murphy fails, you call up Garver. Maybe you demote Murphy, maybe you just release him and pick up more catching fodder to fill out your 40 man. Either way, I don't really care... But Murphy's track record is good enough that he deserves another shot at hitting in Target Field.

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

 

I understand why Gimenez got a ST invite - need all teh catchersssss - but I don't understand why he's in the conversation for the 25 man roster.

 

Murphy is the pretty obvious solution for backup catching duties. He's a decent defensive catcher and has offensive potential. It won't kill Garver to spend a bit more time in Rochester playing every day.

 

If Murphy fails, you call up Garver. Maybe you demote Murphy, maybe you just release him and pick up more catching fodder to fill out your 40 man. Either way, I don't really care... But Murphy's track record is good enough that he deserves another shot at hitting in Target Field.

 

Right, I meant to type that....whichever they like more right now, Murphy or Garver, should start in MN. My money is on it going the way I don't want, though. 

Not what I would do really, but it seems the most likely scenario: Gimenez.

 

  • Both Farvey and Lavine have spoken positively of him in his ability to help young pitchers and "leadership".
  • He was the personal catcher of Cleveland's Trevor Bauer, and Bauer spoke very highly of him
  • He his right handed and hits lefties well (like both Murphy and Garver)
  • He can play first base ok, as well

I think that for this FO 2017 is an evaluation and not a rebuild year, from the Front Office to the minor leagues to the players.They placed an emphasis in pitching (and defense) and want to evaluate pitchers under the best possible circumstances.Again, not what I would do, but it looks like it is Gimenez's job to lose.

 

    • jorgenswest, Mike Sixel, Ryan Atkins and 2 others like this

To me, all signs point to them preferring Gimenez, which I'm fine with. He hits as well as Castro... I'd like to see JRM pan out, but it looks like a wash between the two players right now. Maybe competition will bring out the best in everyone.

    • caninatl04 likes this

"Garver has gone from what some called below average defensively to now being considered an above average defensive backstop.   He was one of the best in minor league baseball in pitch framing, and he threw out 48% of would-be base-stealers. He’s always had a strong arm, having thrown out 38% in his minor league career. Garver can also give the Twins some versatility. In 2016, he caught 60 games and played first base 16 times. Because of his bat, he was in the DH spot in most other games. "  

 

Can't help but think the debate here should be "Who should the regular be, Castro or Garver?"   

    • Mike Sixel, TNTwinsFan and rghrbek like this

 

If JRM can't beat out Gimenez, then frankly I don't have faith he'll ever make an impact on this team. No need to have 2 veteran presences at the same position.  

If you're aiming for veteran presence, I don't think position matters. It's more about how they handle themselves in the locker room and on the bench than on the field.

 

Veterans: Mauer, Dozier, Escobar, Castro, ESan, Gibson, Santiago, most of the bullpen. Who are they mentoring, exactly?

 

So, we just wait until Garver is 27/28 before he comes up? 

    • nicksaviking, Dantes929, tarheeltwinsfan and 1 other like this
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Brock Beauchamp
Feb 28 2017 09:11 AM

 

Not what I would do really, but it seems the most likely scenario: Gimenez.

 

  • Both Farvey and Lavine have spoken positively of him in his ability to help young pitchers and "leadership".
  • He was the personal catcher of Cleveland's Trevor Bauer, and Bauer spoke very highly of him
  • He his right handed and hits lefties well (like both Murphy and Garver)
  • He can play first base ok, as well

I think that for this FO 2017 is an evaluation and not a rebuild year, from the Front Office to the minor leagues to the players.They placed an emphasis in pitching (and defense) and want to evaluate pitchers under the best possible circumstances.Again, not what I would do, but it looks like it is Gimenez's job to lose.

Hmmm, going with Gimenez makes more sense when framed this way.

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

I think this is the third thread where I've noticed Mike Sixel saying 'Garver is already 26 year old, how long do you want to keep him down'?

 

I agree, but I still think believe that the guy, unless he shows MLB caliber presence with the bat and the pitchers, should start in AAA. He has caught in only 60 games above high A ball.

 

As Brock said, start with JRM. If he fails, give Garver a shot.

 

Gimenez's 'veteran presence' can be useful in AAA.

    • Mike Sixel, GP830 and Shaitan like this

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