Twins Banking On Murphy's Growth
Image courtesy of Jerome Miron, USA TodayThe power flashes haven’t been all that frequent for Murphy, who has four homers and a .374 slugging percentage in 284 career plate appearances, but the Twins are counting on his continued growth in that department as well as others.
“I don’t think he’s reached his peak,” said assistant general manager Rob Antony. “I think he has more potential."
Adapting to his new surroundings in the Midwest will be the least of Murphy’s worries. For now, he’s more focused on building a rapport with his new battery-mates and learning their individual styles and tendencies.
Having spent his entire career up to this point in one organization, he admits that the process of acclimating to a new staff has been a little more challenging than he expected.
"It’s one thing to talk about the pitches, and talk about what they like to do, but you have to catch them,” Murphy said. "It comes with time. You have to be back there and see them, see what their curveball does. Everyone’s a little bit different."
As Twins bench coach Joe Vavra sees it, Murphy is coming along nicely. Vavra was acting manager on Tuesday when the 24-year-old served as catcher for eight innings in a game where five Minnesota relievers combined to hold the Baltimore Orioles to one run on four hits. He credited Murphy for developing a “good ebb and flow” with the pitchers and pointed out that you rarely saw a call shaken off.
“He’s real responsive to me,” Vavra said. “Real quick and understands the pitchers’ tempos.”
Murphy didn’t take up catching full-time until his sophomore year of high school, after pitching and playing third base a freshman. He would have continued to refine his skills behind the plate in college at the University of Miami, but the Yankees lured him away with a $1.25 million signing bonus as a 2009 second-round draft pick after Murphy batted .627 with 11 homers as a senior.
Antony said that the Twins had eyes on Murphy back then, but it wasn’t clear where he would play.
“The Yankees took him and made him a catcher, and he really developed into a good receiver.”
So six years later, with a blatant need at the position, the Twins traded away former first-round pick Aaron Hicks to bring Murphy aboard. Now, they’re hoping that he’ll continue to evolve both offensively and defensively.
By all accounts, they’re pleased with where he’s at on the defensive end. But it looks as though his bat will be what makes or breaks him.
That’s an area where Murphy has something to prove. While he was viewed as a strong offensive prospect as a prep (“He was a guy coming out of the draft we thought could hit,” said Antony), his .263/.327/.406 line in the minors doesn’t suggest a ton of upside, and this spring he hasn’t done much at all. After going 0-for-3 on Tuesday, he’s now batting .091 with zero extra-base hits in Grapefruit action.
He has, however, shown a decent eye at the plate, drawing six walks against six strikeouts. And while his 685 career OPS in the big leagues is hardly impressive, he has improved his production each year. In 2015, as Brian McCann’s backup with the Yankees, he slashed .277/.327/.406. For a catcher who gets it done defensively, that’s more than adequate.
Vavra, a former hitting coach, doesn’t put a ton of stock into Murphy’s spring slump.
“He’s underneath a lot,” he said. “Underneath and probably a little late. It’s timing more than anything.”
Maybe a little bit too much self-imposed pressure, as well.
“First impression with us, obviously. He wants to do it all right away.”
Fortunately, he doesn’t have to do it all right away. He’ll be splitting time this year with Kurt Suzuki, whose locker in the Hammond Stadium clubhouse is right next to his.
With a veteran mentor, a fully supportive coaching staff and no obstacles blocking him from ultimately taking the reins as full-time starter, Murphy could hardly ask for a more ideal situation.
“I’m certainly in a good position,” he acknowledges.
Now, all he needs to do is grow.
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