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Report From The Fort: Can Confidence Carry Garver To Success?

FT. MYERS – Carl Lewis once said that if you don't have confidence, you'll always find a way not to win.

As the Twins try to finally work Mitch Garver into the fold as a big-league catcher, they can be confident they've at least checked that box in the quest to set him up for success.
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA Today
A year ago, Garver was a fringe candidate for the backup catcher job that eventually went to Chris Gimenez. He was realistic about his chances at the time.

"I'm excited to get the opportunity," Garver told me last March. "If that means I've gotta be in Triple-A for the year, that's fine with me. I just want to improve my game and be ready when I get there."

Sure enough, that's about exactly how it went down. The Twins sent Garver to Rochester, and improve his game he did.

In the International League, the 26-year-old experienced a breakout of epic proportions, slashing .291/.387/.541 to rank second in OPS (min. 350 PA). The only superior IL producer was Philadelphia's Rhys Hoskins, who of course went on to bash 18 homers in 50 games for the Phillies and place fourth in NL Rookie of the Year balloting.

To what does Garver owe his sudden offensive elevation?

"I think it was just that confidence that kind of grew throughout spring training and then the early parts of last year," he said. "It carried over throughout the rest of the year."

Now, it's the team's confidence in him that is most conspicuous. The Twins let Gimenez walk during the offseason and didn't add anyone with significant big-league experience in his place. Garver rebuts the notion that the job is his – "By no means do I have a backup spot or a spot on this roster locked up" – but the reality is that he pretty much does, even with a .105 batting average thus far in Grapefruit play. And while the club's faith is both logical and commendable, it presents a key point of uncertainty for an offensive unit that is otherwise quite solidified.

Garver was called up to the majors in August last year and went on to make 52 plate appearances, batting just .192 with a .636 OPS. During his six weeks with the big-league club, he started only three games at catcher.

"When you’re in a playoff push, you’re not really going to throw a rookie behind the plate too often," he acknowledged.

Of course, he's still got his rookie status heading into 2018 and the Twins hope to be making a playoff push from the get-go. But you've got to take the leap sometime, and the team is ready to do so. With confidence.

A BETTER PLACE

Asked for an assessment of Garver's performance behind the plate this spring, you'll never guess what Paul Molitor led with.

"I think he's a lot more confident back there," the manager said. "You kind of watch him how he’s handling signal-calling and blocking and framing pitches. He watches [Jason] Castro. He’s learned a lot and he’s in a lot better place than he was even a year ago."

Garver started at catcher in Port Charlotte on Thursday, with Kyle Gibson on the mound. Developing rapport and gaining the confidence of his pitching staff is a key priority for the backstop, even more so than carrying over his strides at the plate from last year. And at a time where even the incumbent starter Castro is in learning mode with recent additions Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn, Garver's going through an intensive crash course this month.

Thursday's game represented his first time working with Gibson this spring, but the two do have history.

"When I got sent down he was the guy in Triple-A and I felt like I developed a pretty good relationship with him there," Gibson explained, adding that he also had a chance to work with Garver a bit when both were in the majors late in the season.

For what it's worth, the right-hander had his best outing of the spring Thursday, firing five innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and no walks.

Garver is also well acquainted with another critical member of the Twins rotation. He and Jose Berrios worked together a few times at Triple-A early last season, and one of Garver's three starts at catcher in Minnesota came with Berrios on the mound. It happened to be Berrios' best performance of the second half: seven shutout innings with 11 strikeouts against the White Sox on August 30th.

Those are the kinds of results that'll inspire confidence on both ends.

THE RIGHT STUFF?

As I mentioned on Wednesday's Nightly Wrap podcast, Garver is a pivotal piece of the Twins roster because of his defensive flexibility and right-handed bat.

In addition to catcher, he spent time at first base, left field and designated hitter with the club in 2017. The Twins have lefty-swinging starters at all those positions. If Garver can prove himself an asset against southpaws he has a chance to increase his own playing time and reduce the lineup's vulnerability versus tough left-handed pitchers.

Last year in Rochester, Garver was especially effective against opposite arms, slashing .290/.408/.530 with a disciplined plate approach evidenced by his 33-to-20 K/BB ratio in 120 appearances. And despite his lack of overall success in Minnesota, he did put up a .762 OPS against lefties, compared to .530 against righties.

This will be a decisive factor in Garver's ability to provide substantial value. The Twins can live with middling results against right-handed pitching so long as he keeps delivering the goods in platoon situations.

Fortunately, his history in that department should give him plenty of confidence.

ALL SYSTEMS GO

Coming off the best season of his career, with endorsements from rotation members and the full faith of an organization that's going all-in on him in a crucial role, Garver has every reason to be feeling as confident as ever.

Best of all, he's beyond confident in the group around him, especially after some of the late additions.

"You look around this locker room, we have a team that’s going to win a pennant," Garver said. "This is the team that’s gonna do it. So I’m really excited to be a part of it, we’ve really got a shot."

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9 Comments

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ashburyjohn
Mar 15 2018 06:52 PM

What is it about catching that causes a prospect not to make enough strides until reaching AAA? Is there something too simple about being a receiver for low-level pitching?

    • brvama likes this
Loved the piece, Nick. Thanks. I think there is a wide spectrum of positions regarding Garver around Twins Daily. I'm bullish and am glad he's getting the nod. Regardless, an article like this highlighting the confidence of a player that has high expectations for this team is a great way to lead into this very much anticipated season.
    • Carpetboy and CUtomorrownight like this

What is it about catching that causes a prospect not to make enough strides until reaching AAA? Is there something too simple about being a receiver for low-level pitching?


Great question! And I am no expert, to be sure, but I think being a game caller and receiver is a lot like being a pitcher at those lower levels. At the lower levels, you can blow people away at times with velocity, or that one outstanding breaking pitch. But hitters also grow and adjust. And so must a pitcher learn to adjust to facing batters multiple times, be able to develop that second and third pitch, etc. And a catcher must not only learn his staff, but he also must grow in setting up hitters.
    • brvama, mikelink45 and MN_ExPat like this

I cannot see the improvement this spring.I can only hope that the people who matter see something I am missing.I have been hoping Garver was put on the team for a year, but my confidence is shaken.I hope he really takes off. 

    • Platoon, sloopjont and bobs like this

He's 26.The people that know a lot more than I do think he's ready to fill this role.It certainly is time to find out.Better to find out early in the year than later, when it's too late to make any moves to fill the position.Here's hoping the FO is right!

I'm pulling for a great year from Garver, for no real reason beyond an interaction I had with him at TwinsFest this year. 

 

I picked up a game used (spring training) Garver jersey from the Twins authenticated garage sale booth - and decided it would be cool to have him sign it. When I put the jersey in front of him, he became visibly excited and said, "Is that a Garver jersey!?!" 

 

The level of genuine excitement and joy he had due to someone wanting an autographed Mitch Garver jersey was delightful - and one of my favorite interactions at TwinsFest. 

 

For that (admittedly goofy) reason - I'm #TeamGarver this year. 

    • diehardtwinsfan, Twins33, brvama and 11 others like this

 

I'm pulling for a great year from Garver, for no real reason beyond an interaction I had with him at TwinsFest this year. 

 

I picked up a game used (spring training) Garver jersey from the Twins authenticated garage sale booth - and decided it would be cool to have him sign it. When I put the jersey in front of him, he became visibly excited and said, "Is that a Garver jersey!?!" 

 

The level of genuine excitement and joy he had due to someone wanting an autographed Mitch Garver jersey was delightful - and one of my favorite interactions at TwinsFest. 

 

For that (admittedly goofy) reason - I'm #TeamGarver this year. 

That's awesome. Love that stuff too.

 

Adam Wainwright is from my town (still lives here too) and my son has been fortunate enough to run into him a few times because of playing baseball.   Even after all these years of him playing, it is truly awesome to see just how much he loves the game (just don't wear Cubs stuff around him... not a huge fan, lol), and how much he wants to give back to the younger generation of players.

 

If anyone is curious, google "Adam Wainwright Field - Brunswick, GA". I believe (?) he bought the land for the complex, and he also helped spearhead the development of it.

    • Doctor Wu likes this

I just hope he can pitch as well as Giminez...

    • woolywoolhouse, Dave The Dastardly, MN_ExPat and 1 other like this

 

Great question! And I am no expert, to be sure, but I think being a game caller and receiver is a lot like being a pitcher at those lower levels. At the lower levels, you can blow people away at times with velocity, or that one outstanding breaking pitch. But hitters also grow and adjust. And so must a pitcher learn to adjust to facing batters multiple times, be able to develop that second and third pitch, etc. And a catcher must not only learn his staff, but he also must grow in setting up hitters.

 

Nailed it.It becomes so much more of a "2 against 1" or "9 against 1" if your catcher is doing his job correctly the higher up you get.

 

Throw some ground balls.It's more democratic.

    • DocBauer and MN_ExPat like this

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