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Article: Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Catcher

jason castro mitch garver willians astudillo
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 24 February 2019 - 07:37 PM

According to reports, the Twins took a run at no fewer than two prominent free agent catchers this offseason (Robinson Chirinos and Yasmani Grandal) but came up short in their pursuits. So it appears they'll roll into the 2019 season with what they've got: a collection of question marks (albeit promising question marks) behind the plate.Projected Starter: Jason Castro
Likely Backup: Mitch Garver

Depth: Willians Astudillo, Tomas Telis, Brian Navarreto
Prospects: Ryan Jeffers, Ben Rortvedt

THE GOOD

Castro's back. He was a solid presence in his first year with the Twins, combining a reasonably productive bat with quality defense and an air of veteran assuredness. That final part is important, and went awry after Castro suffered a season-ending knee injury last May. Garver and Bobby Wilson were left to shoulder the load, and rapport with the staff had to be built on the fly.

The upside of all this is Garver got more time behind the plate than expected, and showed noticeable defensive improvement in the later months. His OPS also ranked 10th among MLB catchers with 300+ plate appearances.

Garver showed signs of being a starter-caliber player, which is handy to have around with Castro returning from knee surgery. And third on the depth chart, the Twins have an enigmatic wild card whose utter uniqueness makes him extremely difficult to analyze.

When Astudillo showed up to camp, he wasted no time putting on a show, immediately blasting a leisurely bomb against the team's best pitcher. He arrives after hitting .316 in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he made headlines with his theatrics.

Last year with the Twins he batted .355 in 29 games. The previous winter he'd hit .319 in the VWL, after batting .342 in Triple-A for the Diamondbacks in 2017. In total, over the last two years between the minors, majors and winter league, Astudillo has a .311 average in 915 at-bats.

Now, of course this sample includes varying degrees of competition – most of it not MLB-caliber – but that's a lengthy run of almost nonstop hitting. Much of this owes to the fact that he almost literally never strikes out. But that's always been the case, throughout the 27-year-old's lengthy run as a minor-league journeyman and also-ran.

What's new is the power. Last year between Rochester and Minnesota, Astudillo launched 15 home runs in 108 games. In his entire eight-year minor-league career leading up to that point, he'd hit 14. Total. And now he's fresh off going deep eight times in 55 games for Caribes in Venezuela.

The intrigue of his bat is undeniable. Were he to accumulate enough starts at catcher, he'd likely rank among the league's best hitters at the position. Along with the emerging Garver and the steady Castro, Astudillo gives the Twins cause for cautious optimism at the catcher position.

THE BAD

We're gonna have to put an emphasis on the cautious in cautious optimism, because there are a lot of cautionary signs at play here.

Castro is 31 and coming back from some fairly significant work on his knee. He also didn't look very good before going down last year, with a .143/.257/.238 line in 74 plate appearances. And his highest WAR in the past five years is 1.6, so you're not looking at a whole lot of upside even if he's back to form.

Garver is in prove-it territory after a good rookie season at age 27. Plenty of late-bloomer types have shown up with a strong first impression and then faded into obscurity (Lew Ford comes to mind). But that's not really my concern. Garver has all but solidified his status as a capable hitter. The bigger concern is his head. If he comes up dazed after another hard foul-tip to the mask, it's gonna be a thing. It needs to be a thing. That specter will loom over him for a while at least.

And Astudillo? Well, like I said, he's hard to analyze. It's not entirely clear how much the Twins trust him at catcher. He does cool wacky things like no-look pickoffs but when it comes to receiving, and framing, and spryness? Hard to judge, and we don't have a ton of data. It does seem fair to say that if Astudillo was considered a strong defender behind the plate, he'd have gotten a look in the majors before age 26, or a few more starts last year before Garver went down and left Paul Molitor with little other option.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Given the alleged extension of a rare multi-year offer to Grandal, it's safe say Minnesota's front office isn't totally sold on the existing situation. Then again, they certainly had the means to make it happen with Grandal, or any number of other upgrades, so clearly they weren't feeling too much urgency.

Entering his final season under contract, Castro is a nice steady force to complement Garver and Astudillo, each of whom is exciting for his own reasons.

After that trio, the depth is pretty rough, and the top prospects haven't played above A-ball. If health issues strike early, the Twins will find themselves in a precarious scenario.

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#2 beckmt

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 04:38 AM

Garver is the question mark.If he can handle the workload behind the plate and produce the offense he showed last year, he is the starting catcher.  

If the concussion issue comes back, he is a firstbaseman,and do not know if he will hit well enough for that position.  

Astudillo, I would like to have with the club, but Castro will be here to start andit is hard to see him being released unless he is horrible.Maybe the Twins have a better idea what Astudillo is, because he seems to be a hit machine, and Twins could use that.Still believe Twins will not fairly store Astudillo in Rochester until he is needed (either catcher issue or total Sano failure).Would like to see him get the chance as I feel he can help this club.

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#3 rdehring

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 07:32 AM

Traveling, so not reading a lot about the Twins first weekend on the field.Thought I saw that Rortvedt saw action on both Saturday and Sunday?If he did, it's encouraging that the Twins would have him out there so soon in the spring.

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#4 caninatl04

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 08:33 AM

To put things in a larger context, the catcher position is better than it was, and the future looks better still.
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#5 minn55441

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 08:39 AM

 

Castro's back. He was a solid presence in his first year with the Twins, combining a reasonably productive bat with quality defense and an air of veteran assuredness. That final part is important, and went awry after Castro suffered a season-ending knee injury last May. Garver and Bobby Wilson were left to shoulder the load, and rapport with the staff had to be built on the fly.

My question from last year was how much did Castro stick around and help Wilson and Garver during his recovery period.Was he around the team helping on a daily basis or did he skip town?I remember I thought this was the ideal situation last May, Garver getting the majority playing time with Castro serving as a mentor.This is of course if Castro sat in on the daily pitching meetings to help orchestrate that days matchups.

 

I have never seen Castro as the catcher on a winning team, I did think he could help Garver to eventually become an above average receiver.


#6 MMMordabito

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 09:05 AM

Nick,That was a great write up on this position.I think you nailed it to the t.

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#7 Riverbrian

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 09:10 AM

Both Garver and Astudillo have options.

One should be on the Twins Roster. The other should be on the Red Wings roster.

Both should remain on the 40 man roster with smiles on our face.
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#8 Hosken Bombo Disco

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 09:43 AM

“Were [Astudillo] to accumulate enough starts at catcher, he'd likely rank among the league's best hitters at the position.”

Great win for the organization finding this guy and bringing him in. Maybe it’s time to consider Astudillo the best catcher on the team, better overall than Castro and almost certainly better than Garver?
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#9 railmarshalljon

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 09:58 AM

Hey Nick, what are your thoughts on David Banuelos? His Cedar Rapids numbers look a bit rough but that isn't everything. Where is he in your rankings?

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#10 mikelink45

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 10:21 AM

Nice write up.I am not sold on Castro and the comments seem to indicate that I am not alone.The Nationals went out and found some bats to fill their catcher dilemma.Weiters proved that a no bat catcher is a real liability.Like everyone I love Astudillo, but like everyone I do not know what he can do in MLB.On the other hand, why not find out?

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#11 jhisley

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 10:24 AM

The Twins leadership seem to be the only people in baseball who don't think Astudillo has earned a more serious look as a 1 or 2 catcher . . . with more than one national pundit suggesting he'd be a top 10 MLB catcher right now. With all due respect to Castro, why is a no-brainer that he's the #1 guy?Why on earth aren't they eager to get more MLB AB's for the Tortuga and see if he can maintain the torrid hitting?  

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#12 railmarshalljon

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 10:43 AM

 

The Twins leadership seem to be the only people in baseball who don't think Astudillo has earned a more serious look as a 1 or 2 catcher . . . with more than one national pundit suggesting he'd be a top 10 MLB catcher right now. With all due respect to Castro, why is a no-brainer that he's the #1 guy?Why on earth aren't they eager to get more MLB AB's for the Tortuga and see if he can maintain the torrid hitting?  

To be fair, we're the only team that has actually given him major league at bats. Based on the Twins calling up Bobby Wilson last year and not Astudillo, I think there are some legitimate questions surrounding his defense at catcher.

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#13 Tom Froemming

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 11:06 AM

I think this is an area of strength. Not many teams have this kind of depth at the position.

 

I'm a big fan of Mitch Garver, but if it was up to me I'd send him to Rochester to start the year. He's been working hard on his framing, a big area in need of improvement. If he's only going to catch half the time or less with the Twins, send him down and get those good habits cemented with a nice stretch of regular playing time with the Red Wings. At the same time, that gives you some more opportunity to evaluate where Castro is at and just what the heck you have in Astudillo.

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#14 yarnivek1972

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 11:13 AM

My question from last year was how much did Castro stick around and help Wilson and Garver during his recovery period. Was he around the team helping on a daily basis or did he skip town? I remember I thought this was the ideal situation last May, Garver getting the majority playing time with Castro serving as a mentor. This is of course if Castro sat in on the daily pitching meetings to help orchestrate that days matchups.

I have never seen Castro as the catcher on a winning team, I did think he could help Garver to eventually become an above average receiver.


That’s the job of advance scouts, the analytics department and coaches.
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#15 Hosken Bombo Disco

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 12:01 PM

To be fair, we're the only team that has actually given him major league at bats. Based on the Twins calling up Bobby Wilson last year and not Astudillo, I think there are some legitimate questions surrounding his defense at catcher.

Maybe, but I think it might be more complicated than that. Maybe they left the decision to Molitor, and Molitor preferred Wilson. Molitor wouldn’t use Astudillo at all behind the plate when Astudillo finally did get his call up. Not to single out Molitor— other orgs didn’t give him an MLB shot either, but then, he’s only 27 now and not exactly over the hill.

Someone mentioned in another thread that the team thinks his catching skills are at least average, which puts him ahead of Garver.
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#16 JLease

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 12:17 PM

I think our depth is actually pretty solid with Astudillo on board. Yes, we're going to be hurting if we lose two catchers for an extended period, but that's true for probably every franchise. Would it be nice if Rortvedt had already put some time in at AA and was a little closer? Absolutely, but that's just the way it goes.

 

Castro should give good defensive value and works with pitchers well. As long as his bat doesn't completely vanish, he's a good plate partner with Garver. Mitch hits very well for a catcher and his D is better than advertised. I'd be pretty happy with the two of them splitting time this year. Maybe splitting time keeps the injury risks down on both of them, Castro having any setbacks on the knee and Garver protecting his head.

 

I'm sure we'll see Astudillo a fair amount this year, although signing Marwin Gonzalez cuts that down a little. (He's not getting called up to fill in at 3rd if Sano falters in the same way) The goal on him should be to improve as a receiver and get enough ABs in MLB to see if he's a guy to keep around as the replacement to Castro. I'm not sure he's a starting quality catcher, but splitting time with another guy while possibly getting some time in the INF could be a good role for him going forward to help bridge towards Rortvedt or Jeffers.

 

Frankly, we're in much better shape at catcher today than we were.

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#17 Original Whizzinator

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 01:11 PM

In an article in the Strib recently Castro said one thing that helped him get through rehab was being in the room and feeling like he was contributing to the team.
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#18 The Mask of Zoilo

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 01:30 PM

Zack Granite DFA'd to make room for Gonzalez. He would have made a great pinch runner/defensive replacement in an era that didn't require 13 pitchers on the 25 man roster. Hope he finds a home!
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#19 Nick Nelson

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 01:41 PM

 

Hey Nick, what are your thoughts on David Banuelos? His Cedar Rapids numbers look a bit rough but that isn't everything. Where is he in your rankings?

I was intrigued when they acquired him last year, but yeah, a .545 OPS and 77-to-10 K/BB ratio as a 21-year-old in Low-A is pretty irredeemable. Hopefully he bounces back in a big way but right now I don't see him as part of the picture. 

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#20 Riverbrian

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Posted 25 February 2019 - 01:52 PM

 

To be fair, we're the only team that has actually given him major league at bats. Based on the Twins calling up Bobby Wilson last year and not Astudillo, I think there are some legitimate questions surrounding his defense at catcher.

 

I watched him play Catcher last year and I came away with no concerns. 

 

I can't speak for Molitor or the front office but the first call up for Astudillo was a different role. He didn't come up as a catcher and I am of the opinion that Molitor has trouble blurring those lines. He came up as the utility guy and he only did utility things and ended up sitting on the bench watching the team not hit the baseball while Bobby Wilson became the primary catcher for some very tough to explain reason. 

 

When he came up the 2nd time... Wilson was gone... Castro and Garver were hurt. So, Astudillo did the bulk of the catching. 

 

Anyway... He looked fine.... He looked better than Garver did defensively in my opinion.

 

All this did was shake my faith in the evaluation process. I am now of the opinion that they make decisions and sometimes those opinions might be based upon antique ideas of roster management or because the player made an initial impression that stuck to him unfairly but most of all, those decisions are often made with razor thin margins.

 

I am now of the opinion, that major league clubs (not just the Twins) get things wrong and they get things wrong frequent enough that any blind faith that they get it right because it is what they do for a living would be a mistaken evaluation of the process on my part. 

 

 

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