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Can Ryan Jeffers Get His Groove Back?


Ryan Jeffers’ ability — or perhaps inability — to perform as he has in the minors could be a key factor in determining the Minnesota Twins’ future outlook.

The book on Ryan Jeffers when coming out of the UNCW was pretty straight forward. Scouts knew that he possessed big power, but questioned his ability to make consistent enough contact to warrant an everyday role at the MLB level. While his play in the minor leagues suggested that the concern was unwarranted, it has risen anew after he posted a mediocre .211 batting average through his first 111 MLB games.

Jeffers burst onto the scene during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season due to a combination of fortuitous luck as well as the betrayal of Mitch Garver at the hands of his own body. After splitting the 2019 season between High-A and Double-A — he slashed .264/.341/.421 with 14 home runs in 103 games — Jeffers was among the prospects selected to train in St. Paul following the cancellation of the minor league season. He was called up in late August after Garver landed on the injured list with an intercostal strain and remained with the team until the conclusion of the season.

The former UNCW Seahawk performed admirably in 26 games, hitting three home runs and slashing .273/.355/.436, good for a 120 wRC+, bolstered by a .364 BABIP,  while providing surprisingly solid defense behind the plate, particularly in regard to pitch framing. His performance left many wondering if he would soon supplant Garver, perhaps as soon as the coming offseason, as the Twins’ everyday starting catcher.

The Twins, obviously with similar questions wafting through their heads, began the season with Jeffers and Garver splitting a roughly equal amount of time in the starting lineup. However, the decision, while sound in theory, turned out to be poor in practice as it wound up negating both of their strengths, namely hitting for power, while intensifying their weaknesses, striking out. Jeffers was eventually demoted to Triple-A while Garver spent more time on the injured list. (Garver absolutely crushed after his slow start and finished the season with a 137 wRC+ and .875 OPS in 68 games while Jeffers — 89 and .670, respectively, in 85 — did not.)

Even upon his return to the majors after posting a .786 OPS with St. Paul, Jeffers’ season never really got on track offensively, which was likely the result of multiple factors.

For starters, Jeffers wasn’t unable to do much against breaking balls, as he hit .136 with a 36.1% strikeout rate. His barrel rate against benders dropped 22 percentage points year over year while his fly ball rate nearly tripled.

However, for as bad as his numbers against breaking balls were, they were more or less commensurate with his performance during 2020 (.133, 37.5%). Where Jeffers struggled the most was with making contact against fastballs, particularly those up in the zone.

Overall, opposing pitchers offered fewer fastballs during Jeffers' at-bats — 54.7% of all pitches in 2021 compared to 60.5% in 2020 — and even when they did, he hit worse, posting a .228 batting average this past summer versus .313 throughout the previous. His strikeout rate against heaters also jumped an astronomic 10%, from 28.9% to 38.3%.

Jeffers also ran into a bit of poor luck as his BABIP dropped precipitously from an egregious .364 in 2020 to a relatively unlucky .269 in 2021. While the sample sizes are incredibly small, teams did increase the frequency in which they shifted against Jeffers from 3.2% in 2020 to 7.5% in 2021, which may have influenced his BABIP numbers. 

In many ways Jeffers’ struggles during the 2021 season can be summed up similarly to that of Trevor Larnach: Former top prospect with a track record of mashing fastballs suddenly lost the ability to mash fastballs. Luckily for the Twins, as is also the case with Larnach, Jeffers is only 24 years old and has not yet played 162 MLB games, meaning he has plenty of time to make adjustments.

If he is able to do so, the Twins likely possess their starting catcher for the foreseeable future. If not, Jeffers may find himself on the trade block sooner rather than later. 

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With the exception possibly of a few teams, till their rookies are called up, there is a BIG difference between the Minor League and the Major League; being a top player there often means little in the Majors.

I read an article seven or eight years ago talking of people who were top in the Minors who never got a good shot at the Majors; article said it was to a large degree being on a team owned by a team with no spots to fill.

The player may be as good as those called up but there is no full time room for him so they would get called up when some one was hurt but sent back when hurt player was able to play again. They were bounced around while they are still in their prime, but they were always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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12 hours ago, Doctor Gast said:

I think what also hurt Jeffers was that maybe Garver the lion's share of left-handed pitching. As long as Jeffers is with Twins that will be a slight problem

Doc nailed it.  If you flip the script, Jeffers has the big numbers and Garver struggles.    I was fine having Garver hit all lefties because he was rock solid......but then having Jeffers bat against almost strictly righties........of course he will struggle.    90% of the league struggles against the same side pitchers.  This is why managers stack line ups.  Basically,  Baldelli stacked the line up against Jeffers.   He will be fine!

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3 hours ago, miracleb said:

Doc nailed it.  If you flip the script, Jeffers has the big numbers and Garver struggles.    I was fine having Garver hit all lefties because he was rock solid......but then having Jeffers bat against almost strictly righties........of course he will struggle.    90% of the league struggles against the same side pitchers.  This is why managers stack line ups.  Basically,  Baldelli stacked the line up against Jeffers.   He will be fine!

Defensively he is lousy, dump him and bring up Rortvedt.

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3 hours ago, RpR said:

Defensively he is lousy, dump him and bring up Rortvedt.

Bring up soft hitting .140 rortvedt.  Ouch, not the answer.  Lousy defensively not so much for Jeffers. He is pretty much on par with any other backup catcher in the bigs.  Caught Stealing 23%, Garver 23%, Rort 44%.  So Rort had better % but way less opportunities, so take that with a grain of salt.  Stolen bases aren't solely on the catcher, pitcher plays a part, so in depth analytics on who attempts a steal, who was pitching, situation, etc comes into play.  So.  Fielding % Jeffers .994, Garver .996 and Rort .989.  So on paper, reason Rort is in the minors

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Jeffers vs. Garver.

Batting right against southpaws.

  • wRC+ 99 vs. wRC+ 97

Batting right against righties.

  • wRC+ 73 vs. wRC+ 168

Jeffers couldn't hit righties last year at all while Garver destroyed them. Both catchers were league average against southpaws.

Jeffers was entirely exposed and overmatched at the MLB level last year, and while he hit well enough in the minors, it wasn't like he was setting the world on fire down there. The scouting reports found a weakness in Jeffers' plate approach after his small sample of plate appearances in 2020 and his start in 2021. Jeffers will need to adjust his pitch recognition and potentially his swing to make up for his current weaknesses if he wants to remain anything beyond a depth catcher. His defense is average so it's not like he'd be looked at as a defensive wizard saving runs with his mitt, but he's young enough to improve there as well. 

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2 hours ago, umterp23 said:

Bring up soft hitting .140 rortvedt.  Ouch, not the answer.  Lousy defensively not so much for Jeffers. He is pretty much on par with any other backup catcher in the bigs.

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Hmmm, in  Rtot/y  Rortvedt is 20 runs superior,' if Jeffers is average,  most rookie catchers will not leave the minors.

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Jeffers has talent and the Twins do have three decent catchers really. I believe Rortvedt is somewhat underrated as a catcher and also think he has some future with a bat as well. It may be best if the Twins cash in the current high value of Jeffers to help acquire some pitching. Jeffers should be a fine MLB player though. Is he a good exchange for someone like Edward Cabrera or Max Meyer? That is what i wonder.

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