Twins Position Battles: Backup Catcher
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.
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.
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.
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?