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Twins 2021 Position Analysis: Catcher

ryan jeffers mitch garver ben rortvedt willians astudillo
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 28 February 2021 - 09:12 PM

With spring training officially underway and a new season rapidly approaching, it's time to kick off my annual position-by-position analysis of the Minnesota Twins roster. Today, we break down the team's very strong outlook behind the plate.Projected Starter: Mitch Garver
Likely Backup: Ryan Jeffers

Depth: Willians Astudillo, Tomás Telis
Prospects: Ben Rortvedt

THE GOOD

Few teams have a starting catcher as good as Mitch Garver. No teams have a backup catcher as good as Ryan Jeffers – to the extent you'd call him a "backup" given this appears to be a straight 50/50 timeshare.

The Twins are in a pretty optimal situation with two starting-caliber catchers on hand. Although questions marks surround both Garver and Jeffers to some extent, each backstop has proven his mettle in the majors after stepping in with big expectations and big pressure.

In 2019, after coming up short in their offseason pursuits of free agents Yasmani Grandal and Robinson Chirinos, the Twins turned to Garver as the primary partner for veteran Jason Castro. Garver's future behind the plate was somewhat in doubt after another concussion ended his 2018 campaign, while Castro was trying to come back from knee surgery. It was a bit of a precarious situation.

It worked out nicely, in part because Castro rebounded with a .767 OPS, but mainly because Garver broke through with a spectacular season that earned him Silver Slugger honors and catapulted him immediately into the upper echelon of major-league catchers. He slashed .273/.365/.630 with 31 home runs and a .404 wOBA in 391 plate appearance, producing 3.9 fWAR in just 93 games.

Garver's offensive explosion was accompanied by clear improvements on the defensive end, as he graded out very well by pitch-framing metrics and earned more confidence from Twins pitchers. While the luster wore off from his breakout during in injury-marred and abbreviated 2020 campaign, Garver is a prime rebound candidate and remains a high-quality starting option.



The uncertainties attached to Garver are much easier to stomach given last year's emergence of Jeffers, who answered the call for Minnesota's beleaguered catching corps. Showing up as a 23-year-old rookie, he showed astonishing poise and preparedness, slashing .273/.355/.436 while grading out well defensively.



Jeffers received Twins Daily's nod for Rookie of the Year, and made such an impression that his spot on the 2021 Opening Day roster was at no point in doubt. He might not offer the upside to match what Garver showed in 2019, but Jeffers has instantly established himself as a high-floor timeshare partner, balancing out Garver's risk factor while enabling Rocco Baldelli to take it easy on both of them.

The manager can rotate his top two catchers steadily to regulate their workloads, without ever sacrificing high-end offense or defense. How many other teams can say that?

THE BAD

While the Twins have an admirable 1-2 punch atop the depth chart at catcher, neither player is necessarily a slam dunk. Garver's immense struggles in 2020, when his OPS plummeted by nearly 500 points and he struck out in 46% of his plate appearances, can't be completely ignored, mitigating circumstances aside.

He won't be that bad again, and got off on the right foot this year with a ringing single in his first spring training AB, but Garver will not escape the shadow of his 2020 season until he goes out on the field in real games and firmly proves it a fluke.

As for Jeffers, his successful first stint in the majors carried no specific indicators of unsustainability, but all standard caveats apply. It was a 26-game sample for a 23-year-old who'd previously played only 24 games above Single-A. He needs to substantiate that performance while holding up to the rigors of a full MLB season as catcher – no small task.

In terms of depth behind these two, the Twins aren't in bad shape with Tomás Telis, Ben Rortvedt and Willians Astudillo (who may round out the Opening Day roster as a third catcher). Needless to say, they'd see a huge drop-off in the quality of their catching rotation if either Garver or Jeffers goes down.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Minnesota's catching situation is the envy of much of the league. You'd be hard-pressed to find another club that would be in as comfortable shape as the Twins if their 1A option became unavailable. In fact, as spring training gets underway, it's not entirely clear Garver should be the 1A, given that Jeffers earned enough trust last season to start both playoff games.

Regardless of how you want to stack them, these two provide Minnesota with a decisive competitive advantage behind the plate compared to nearly all rivals.



For a deeper dive into position's long-term outlook, check out Cody Christie's future position analysis at catcher.

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#2 Monkeypaws

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Posted 28 February 2021 - 10:59 PM

Catcher-cam needs to be an occasional part of MLB broadcasts.

 

Dayum, some of those pitches were downright scary.

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#3 cHawk

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 06:56 AM

Is Garver the player we saw in 2019 or in 2020? If it’s the latter our catching rotation will not be pretty.

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Whenever I’m about to do something I think, would an idiot do that? And if they would, I do NOT do that thing.


#4 big dog

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 07:23 AM

We need more catcher-cam. Wow.


#5 HrbieFan

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 07:23 AM

Did the team or Garver ever address his woeful 2020 numbers?
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#6 jun

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 07:27 AM

Garver should be the backup catcher.


#7 mikelink45

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 07:50 AM

I hope Garver comes back strong.I still do not understand what happened to him last year and how it gets fixed.I am very happy to have Jeffers on board.


#8 JLease

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 08:07 AM

Garver was battling injuries in 2020 and if you thrown in the weirdness of the pandemic (and small sample size) it's easy to forecast a pretty significant rebound. we don't need 2019 Garver for catcher to be a position of strength; even something closer to 2018 Garver on offense will be a quality asset. I think he'll be ok; it sounds like he's healthy now.

 

Jeffers is great from a production standpoint; the only thing that isn't ideal with this pairing is there's no platoon advantage to add to the mix. But that's a small thing in the light of how bad most team's backup catcher is. Heck, Jeffers would start for a LOT of teams so splitting time like this really puts the team in good shape.

 

Is there drop-off if we run into a bunch of injuries at catcher? Sure, but name me one team that isn't facing that. But even in that case, the Twins are in better shape than most teams; Astudillo can fill in and still add something on offense, Telis is a competent receiver, and Rortvedt is MLB ready on D right now...he just might be a classic no-hit catcher who gets on the field for D.

 

Twins should probably commit another pick to the position in the next year or two to keep the pipeline going; you can never have too many catchers in development who can hit.

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#9 saviking

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 08:13 AM

Not many cathers (or players) with a year (hitting) as bad as Garvers was last year have ever had any year as good as Garver's two seasons ago. Last year was a short year with injury's but two years ago Garver proved he could put up brilliant numbers for an entire major league season. 

 

Garver doesn't have to ever have a year as good as two years ago to be a very good hitting catcher. In fact, his 2019 season was soooo good I'd wager he could never repeat it. But so what, 25 homers, 270 batting average is just fine with me .. 

 

I believe our catching tandem insures a high level of play 162 games a year unless one of them get's hurt .. 


#10 twinfan

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 10:13 AM

I'm comfortable with our catching corps though I can agree with the concerns over both. We may need to add a veteran (and probably should to our AAA team now) if either of them falter or get hurt. I can see Garver hitting .260 with 22 homers and Jeffers hitting .250 with 12 homers. Hopefully they stay healthy cause their defense and framing skills are very good. 

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#11 Trov

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 10:48 AM

 

Catcher-cam needs to be an occasional part of MLB broadcasts.

 

Dayum, some of those pitches were downright scary.

I agree that should be an angle that gets into the games.Not sure why it has not yet.I mean they put base cams in games.It really shows how hard hitting a MLB pitch is.  

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#12 Trov

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 10:55 AM

I hope Garver has some level of bounce back.I do not expect he will repeat 2019, not only because ball will be not as lively, but also teams showed last year they were pitching different too him.  

 

He talked about how he stays off of edge strike zone stuff and liked to attack fastballs early.Which scouting would see that too.Last year I saw a lot more off-speed early in counts and fastballs on edges late in counts.This led to him falling behind and not getting meatballs to hit.I hope the injuries he had last year did play into his lack of contact.

 

I hope he gets value back and Twins can flip him for something.Not saying having 2 good catchers is not something to want, but they are not guys that will work as platoon and Garver will not be FA until after he is past prime.Many teams will be willing to take him on if he can hit for few years of cheap control.Jeffers is much younger and room to grow.  

 

Jeffers may lose some value when electronic zone comes into play because framing will not be a thing.However, I think part of framing is also being a good receiverfor pitchers.I think the electronic zone may lead to a few more chases at times because hitters know it is all electronic and if they guess wrong they cannot hope the ump guesses wrong too.I could be wrong but I think some players will be more aggressive on the corners worrying about those that just clip the zone for a called strike. 


#13 jimbo92107

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 12:09 PM

By far the biggest strength of the Twins for 2021 is catcher. Garver's swing is so simple and direct, no way he won't fix his hitting now that he's healed up. Jeffers looks like a starter for the next decade. I'd work those two 50/50 all year, with an occasional game for El Cherubo just to see him do his trick throw to first. 

 

Stay healthy, Twins!

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#14 prouster

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 12:45 PM

I'm glad to see Garver hit the ball with authority early in the spring. Hopefully he's got a handle on whatever his issues were last year.

 

And I fully agree, catcher cam needs to be part of the game broadcasts.


#15 DocBauer

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Posted 01 March 2021 - 07:05 PM

Unfortunately, this all echoes the various offseason discussions we've already had about Garver previously. He has a good eye, a smooth, quick and compact stroke with power. He's hit in college, the minors and even his rookie year in MLB. While I don't expect him to perform at the amazing level he did in 2019, he's going to be just fine.

I can't describe how impressed I was with Jeffers, SSS or not. He wasn't playing in meaningless games either. My only concern in just lack of experience and will he make necessary adjustments quickly.

Whether you like Astudillo or not, he is fine as a 3rd catcher who has shown he can hit some as well. Telis has experience, some hit ability and at least some ML experience. I don't believe he would embarrass himself.

Rortvedt, IMO, just needs a little more time and I hope he isn't rushed. The defense is there. There is power potential. He needs time and experience to hone the hit ability. He's shown flashes.

Agree and disagree about adding lower catching depth. You always want to draft a solid backstop of two every year. But from past drafts and international signings, they have added a few guys recently. The problem us they are so young and didn't play last year so we aren't really sure what we have.
"Nice catch Hayes...don't ever f*****g do it again."

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#16 Joey Self

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Posted 17 March 2021 - 12:03 PM

I'll be so glad when the electronic strike zone is implemented.Until then, having a catcher that can "steal strikes/fool the umpire" is important to a pitching staff.Any idea what the final numbers were for Twins' catchers? The tweet was August 22. 

JcS




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