Jeffers was widely considered a reach when the Twins selected him 59th overall in 2018 – the second draft overseen by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Per Puckett's Pond, Baseball America's big board had Jeffers ranked 295th among draft prospects and MLB.com's 200-player list didn't have him ranked.
Although the North Carolina native had posted monster numbers during his collegiate career at UNC, he had a rep as a bat-first catcher without the receiving chops to stick behind the plate, negating his defensive premium. The Twins saw it differently.
They overdrafted Jeffers to ensure he wouldn't escape their grasp. They moved him aggressively through the minors, even as he failed to post truly extraordinary numbers. In the COVID season, Minnesota called Jeffers up from the alternate site, despite his having played only 24 total games above Double-A to that point.
To his credit, Jeffers seized the opportunity and made a great impression. While filling in the very big shoes of an injured Mitch Garver, the 23-year-old delivered a positive impact on both sides, posting a 119 OPS+ while flashing his vaunted framing skills on the big stage. Twins Daily named him Twins rookie of the year.
The 2021 season was much more of a struggle for Jeffers. Pitchers began to exploit his lack of discipline at the plate. He batted .199 with a .270 OBP, and five times as many strikeouts as walks. Base runners increasingly exploited his inability to control the run game, stealing 46 bases on 59 attempts.
Despite his sluggish sophomore campaign, the front office doubled down on Jeffers during the offseason, trading away two years of Mitch Garver and replacing him with Gary Sánchez in a walk year. The message was clear: Jeffers is our future behind the plate.
Sure enough, the Twins ran Jeffers hard early on. He started every game in the opening series, catching the first two and playing DH in the third. In fact, Jeffers got three starts at designated hitter in the team's first dozen games, even with Minnesota carrying only two catchers.
It's clear they expected Jeffers to hit. He hasn't.
Jeffers opened the season in a brutal 4-for-27 skid, with zero extra-base hits. He then had a brief surge where he launched three home runs and four doubles in an eight-game span. Since then: 11-for-78 (.151) with one double, one home run, and 25 strikeouts in 26 games. Overall, Jeffers is slashing .174/.264/.303 – only six qualified big-leaguers have a worse OPS.
He's consistently been an automatic out, cratering rallies and sapping an otherwise productive lineup. And what's more: Jeffers isn't exactly tearing it up on the defensive side to offset his hitting woes.
He still rates well as a pitch framer, and it's clear he is stealing pitchers an extra strike here and there. (Although I'll note: notorious butcher backstop Gary Sánchez is also checking in above-average this year.) But Jeffers is being exposed for his throwing inadequacies like never before.
For the season, Jeffers has successfully stopped only three of 28 aspiring base stealers. On Sunday, the Rays went borderline Matthew LeCroy on the bit, running at will as the Twins catcher helplessly cast tardy throws to second and third.
Granted, Jeffers has often not gotten help from pitchers when it comes to stopping runners – Cole Sands on Sunday being a prime example – but it's a pretty clear weakness in his game. And again: it's not an unexpected one. His deficiencies in quickness and footwork have been noted in scouting reports over the years. They're part of why draft analysts doubted his future behind the plate.
For Twins fans, it's now impossible not to doubt Jeffers' future behind the plate for the Twins. Framing skills aside, he's a 25-year-old with more than 500 plate appearances in the big leagues and a .655 OPS to show for it. The requisite signs of improvement aren't there. Jeffers looks lost and it's not inconceivable he could find himself ticketed for a Triple-A reset, should this trend persist.
If Jeffers can't change course and resuscitate his wayward game, what does that mean for the future of the team at catcher? Garver is gone, as is Ben Rortvedt. The system is sparse on catching talent, which was noted in our preseason prospect rankings even before that depth was wiped out.
This front office might be confident to the point some would describe as hubris, but they're not overly sentimental. At some point, they'll come to terms with the reality of Jeffers if it becomes undeniable. What happens then?
In short, the Twins will either need to find a free agent (the upcoming market is ... not great) or a trade partner. OR ... they'll need to convince Gary Sánchez to stick around. It's not the most exciting proposition given his track record, and even in his resurgent rebound this year he's been pretty average. Still probably good enough to have some leverage in a weak catching market this offseason.
So far, the team's unwavering faith in Jeffers has not paid off. But there's still time for him to prove them right. They could sure use it.