Age: 22 (DOB: 6/3/1997)
2019 Stats (A+/AA): 414 PA, .264/.341/.421, 14 HR, 49 RBI
2019 Ranking: 13
National Top 100 Rankings
What's To Like
The bat. It was considered his primary strength coming out of college in 2018, when the Twins selected him in the second round. The North Carolina native put up spectacular offensive numbers in three years at UNC Wilmington, culminating with .315/.460/.635, 16 homers, and 51 walks in 62 games his junior year.
With numbers like that, as a catcher, you might ask why Jeffers fell to 59th overall and signed below slot, after ranking even farther back on most pre-draft projections. In short, there were some serious doubts about his slugging prowess translating away from aluminum bats, and his defense remaining viable behind home plate.
The Twins evidently were none too bothered by such concerns, and their faith has since been rewarded. Two months after the draft, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press wrote that Jeffers was laying quick claim to Twins 'catcher of the future.'
"Yeah, I was swinging a different bat, but baseball is baseball," Jeffers said at the time, fresh off an aggressive promotion to Cedar Rapids after dominating Elizabethton. "I didn’t change too much.” Nor did the numbers.
He finished with a .344/.444/.502 slash line between two levels, and found himself at Fort Myers to open the 2019 campaign. In the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, he wasn't quite as potent (.732 OPS and 10 homers in 79 games) but still impressed enough to earn a late-July promotion to Double-A, where he enjoyed an unforgettable first day and finished with an .856 OPS in 27 games.
It's the defense, though, that has really begun to separate Jeffers. After the 2018 season, Dan Hayes of The Athletic wrote about Minnesota's efforts to refine his receiving chops, and how aptly the malleable student was taking to it. One year later, Hayes wrote in our Offseason Handbook that Jeffers' pitch-framing skills were deemed by some folks within the organization to be "among the top 15 in pro ball right now."
MLB Pipeline recently named him the best defensive prospect in the Twins system, noting that Jeffers has shed his offense-first rep and "improved by leaps and bounds, with an above-average arm to go along with outstanding receiving and blocking skills."
What's Left to Work On
He's just got to keep proving it. Jeffers hasn't yet gained steam on national lists because, while his performance has been impeccable, it's not out of the ordinary for a premier college talent storming the lower levels of the minors.
Catcher, in particular, is a position where the difficulty level rises sharply with each rung of the ladder. Jeffers is clearly coming along nicely but he'll really be tested once he reaches Triple-A and especially the majors. One area for improvement is controlling the run game; at Rochester last year, opponents stole 63 bases in his 74 starts at a 74% success rate.
At 6-foot-4 and 230 lbs., Jeffers is a bit of a lumbering fellow who doesn't spring quickly from the crouch, and also doesn't move too well, which greatly limits his defensive options in the event catching doesn't work out. Luckily, there's no reason to believe that'll be the case.
Jeffers is among the Twins' non-roster spring training invites, reporting with the rest of the pitchers and catchers this week. The team has (intentionally, I suspect) preserved flexibility at catcher by signing Alex Avila to a one-year deal, so the door is open for Jeffers to join Mitch Garver in the majors after 2020 if can make his case.
Speaking of the current Twins starting backstop, it was noted in the aforementioned Berardino profile that Jeffers was drawing "a lot of internal comparisons" to Garver, who at the time was just finding his way as a solid yet unspectacular rookie in the majors.
“I’ve heard that and I take it as a compliment,” Jeffers said then. “I’m trying to get to where Mitch has gotten.”
He's about to have his chance.
Twins Daily 2020 Top 20 Prospects
7. Ryan Jeffers, C
Check back tomorrow for #6!
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