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  • Ryan Jeffers Will Justify Front Office's Belief


    Seth Stohs

    When Twins manager Rocco Baldelli announced that Joe Ryan will be making the Opening Day start for the Twins next week, it showed how much the team and front office believe in Ryan. Speaking of belief in Ryan, when the Twins traded catchers Mitch Garver and Ben Rortvedt last month, they showed their belief in Ryan Jeffers

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    One question that I have been asked frequently over the past couple of offseasons was, “How would you split up the catcher position between Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers?” 

    It was a great question and one I enjoyed answering. In my mind, there was a great answer. Play both of them half of the time. Keep them both fresh. Keep them both playing often. Help both of them keep their legs underneath them. The two backstops are so similar in so many ways offensively and defensively in such a way that should allow for continuity for the pitchers. 

    Physically, Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers are both big catchers. Garver is about 6-1 and 230 pounds. Jeffers stands 6-4 and about 240 pounds. 

    I think in some ways, their size gave both of them a perception of poor defense. Garver certainly acknowledged his defensive deficiencies early in his career and set out to improve behind the plate with the help of then-minor-league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson. True to the hard work, over one season he went from the worst pitch framer in baseball to league average. That’s more impressive when you consider that it was becoming a huge focus in the game and the overall framing numbers were improving. 

    Like Garver, Jeffers was drafted as an offense-first catcher, at least in the eyes of national sources. However, the Twins scouts saw something in Jeffers that told them he can be a very good catcher. When he got into pro ball and started having the technology and analysis to determine such things, it showed that he was a plus-pitch framer. And he has continued to rank highly even in his first two big-league seasons. 

    Jeffers and Garver are both very smart away from the baseball field. Garver went to the University of New Mexico to become a chiropractor and play a little baseball. Jeffers was a physics major at UNCW. 

    Aside from general intelligence, both have a very high Baseball IQ. Both are analytical and study the game. They put in the time before the game to understand what the opposing hitters like and how that day’s pitcher could use their repertoire to get each hitter out. 

    As important, both are tremendous communicators. They work well with their pitchers and their coaches. They both have talked about their communication with each other on pre-game scouting reports and planning. And yes, both are fantastic with the media too. 

    And then there is the offense. Yes, both can mash. Both have had rough spots in their careers, but overall, these guys can really hit

    Mitch Garver posted an OPS over 1.000 in his junior and senior seasons at New Mexico. He was the Twins Daily Minor League Hitter in 2014 when he played at Cedar Rapids, and in 2017 with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings. He made his MLB debut late that season. He has been in the big leagues since. He earned the American League’s Silver Slugger Award in 2019 when he hit  .273/.365/.630 (.995) with 16 doubles and 31 home runs. Yes, he struggled and was hurt in the shortened 2020 season. But after a slow April in 2021, he was back. Overall, he hit .256/.358/.517 (.875) with 15 doubles and 13 home runs in 68 games. 

    Jeffers posted an OPS over 1.000 in all three seasons he played at UNC-Wilmington. Along with power, he walked more than he struck out, something that was important to him. After being drafted in 2018, he crushed the ball at both Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids. He split the 2019 season between Ft. Myers and Double-A Pensacola. 

    He was invited to the Twins’ alternate site in St. Paul, and when Garver was hurt, the Twins went directly to Jeffers. In 26 games, he hit .277/.355/.436 (.791) with three homers. He had a rough season offensively in 2021 as Garver began the season by getting significantly more playing time. While he hit just .199, he still provided the team with 10 doubles and 14 home runs. His power is legit. 

    Following the lockout, the Twins front office traded Garver, 31, to the Texas Rangers which started a series of moves. A week later, Ben Rortvedt was included in a deal with the New York Yankees. 

    After having the question about how to split up playing time between Garver and Jeffers for a couple of years, there were questions about the Twins’ sudden lack of catcher depth behind Jeffers. Yes, they acquired veteran Gary Sanchez from the Yankees, but he will certainly do less catching and more DHing. That’s why they added minor-league veteran Jose Godoy on a waiver claim to provide another body, a guy who can play good defense. 

    And, after Jeffers’ disappointing .199 batting average in 2021, it is fair for some Twins fans to question the decision of handing him the reins behind the plate. 

    However, if one thing is clear, it’s that the Twins front office has complete confidence in the abilities behind the plate and at the plate of 24-year-old Ryan Jeffers. When a team is looking for a catcher, there is a mental checklist that a front office marks up in their mind as they evaluate a player. For a catcher, that list includes defense, framing, leadership, communication, and then offense, quality plate appearances, power, etc. While needing to show more consistency, Jeffers is a guy who checks all the boxes. 

    So why even bring up Mitch Garver in this article? Why not just speak on the accolades and talents of Jeffers? I think it's important for a couple of reasons. First, it's OK for Twins fans to miss Mitch Garver. He was great with fans and media alike. And, he was a senior sign who made it big, against the odds, to be a Top 5 player at his position. Second, and certainly more important to the Twins and their fans going forward, I think it showed the similarities. Just because players are similar does not mean that the results will be similar. However, it is important to understand what kind of potential Ryan Jeffers has. 

    In 2022, Ryan Jeffers will start getting that opportunity to prove it on a larger scale, as the Twins’ primary catcher. He will likely be able to hit toward the bottom of the lineup which may help take a little bit of the pressure off of his bat. He will be challenged with a pitching staff with three new veteran starters and two pitchers with less than one year of service time. That is a lot to take on, to be sure, but Jeffers is certainly up for the challenge.

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    Great article.  Well written and thought out!  I think this is the right move.  Jeffers has more athleticism and much more potential.  Time will tell.  We certainly need more than a .199 average from him.  I'm thinking .250-.275 would be great.

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    It is up to Jeffers to prove that the decision was good.  I really loved Jeffers in the minors and then the first season he was up, but he needs to start producing.  No longer a rookie, no longer alternating.  He needs to show us something to justify your accolades and I hope he does.  He is one of the keys to our future success. 

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    I think He can hit better than he did last year. I'm of the opinion that last year was some kind of a fluke the way it started out and snowballed from there for so many guys. 2019 was like a career year for many and karma got us last year. At least thats my story and I'm sticking to it. I hope. There is so much talk about pitch framing, the ABS will negate that soon if all goes as expected.

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    Excellent article. Here’s hoping the Jeffers’ train starts to gain serious speed.

    A little side note of import. C depth is critical - good catchers are not only hard to find, but are hard to keep healthy.

    The Yankees were all set to platoon Rortvedt as C2 this year, but he developed an oblique strain. Thus, they were forced to traded two pitching prospects for a Godoy type from the Rangers. Point being - C injuries happens - often. 

    Although we dearly hope the opposite, we should not expect Jeffers to last the year unscathed. Or said differently, there is a real - definitely non-zero -  possibility we will be relying heavily on our back up Cs this year.

    Overall, this off-season C went from an area of strength to one of weakness and risk (i.e. the bet Jeffers BOTH produces and stays healthy - there shouldn’t even be a line on the Sanchez  “change of scenery” scenario).  We should not expect above average play from Sanchez either offensively or defensively and Godoy, who really is, or should be, C2, is kinda an older, slightly poorer version of Rortvedt - meh.

    I love we added Correa.  But it appears he fell in our laps and gave the FO a huge kick save. We should’ve been able to move JD without ruining our C depth. 

     

     

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    Jeffers has a minor league history of hitting and hitting for power. Give him time in the majors, that 1,500 at bats they always talk about and I feel certain he will hit in the 250 - 270 range with power 

    I didn't like losing Mitch because I felt that Garver and Jeffers could spit catching like you said and Garver could pinch hit while not catching. BUT .. I'm all in on the trade because I felt the Twins number one objective in the off season should be moving Donaldson. I wanted to both clear 3rd base for Miranda as well as move his salary. If it took trading Garver to accomplish this I'm fine with it.

    But the real icing on the cake is having the capital to sign Correa even if he only stays for one season.

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    Good article, and catcher is definitely key to success this year. Not just Jeffers who needs to progress as a hitter, but Sanchez, who I think the Twins believe in. Taking them at their word (which probably is not just spin this time), I'd expect something like a 2 (Jeffers) to 1 (Sanchez) split with the majority of Sanchez's at-bats coming at C. (I also believe the Twins mean it right now that DH will rotate to give people not in the field that day some extra ABs; sure Sanchez gets swings, but so do the others on the bench depending on matchup and production.) 

    Have no idea how it will play out, but I guess that is the joy of this week; we start to find out for real!

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    22 minutes ago, saviking said:

    Jeffers has a minor league history of hitting and hitting for power. Give him time in the majors, that 1,500 at bats they always talk about and I feel certain he will hit in the 250 - 270 range with power 

    I didn't like losing Mitch because I felt that Garver and Jeffers could spit catching like you said and Garver could pinch hit while not catching. BUT .. I'm all in on the trade because I felt the Twins number one objective in the off season should be moving Donaldson. I wanted to both clear 3rd base for Miranda as well as move his salary. If it took trading Garver to accomplish this I'm fine with it.

    But the real icing on the cake is having the capital to sign Correa even if he only stays for one season.

    Jeffers OPS+ was 83 - 17% below average.  At this point we should have hope, not optimism.  I really like him (even though I am not a big framer guy), but he has to step up this year or C becomes a big hole that is hard to fill. 

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    good article and what I see in Jeffers is quiet confidence no panic approach at the plate.  short season '20 he had not problem seeing pitches, working the count like he did in college and minors and then getting a pitch to hit with 2 strikes.  in '21 same approach but missed his pitch more times than not, thus the .199 avg.  Still disciplined approach, doesn't jump at too many 1st pitch at bats.  Has good power and decent speed for a 6'4 230 + lb backstop.  Give me .240, 20-25 HR's at back 1/3 of lineup, take that every year

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    Count me as one who believes that Ryan Jeffers will be solid this year, but also put me down as a person who remains befuddled by the purge of depth at a position so integral to a pitcher's success. It wasn't necessary unless one accepts that JD was reviled by all with the Twins organization, for which I claim no knowledge whatsoever. Clearly, it wasn't the money.

    Great article pushing forward Jeffers' breadth of skills - hope he has a wonderful year.

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    I am not going to make any predictions, but our front office deserves a kick in the xxxxx for taking a position of strength and making it vulnerable.  Sure if Jeffers improves, we’ll forget all about it.  However to let Tortuga walk and trade Garver and Rortvedt shows a tremendous lack of planning. Was it really that important to dump JD’s contract?

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    Seth:

    You forgot two highly important issues!!

    One: Teams run on Jeffers at will. (So walks quickly turn into doubles) (Average staff = Lots of walks)

    Two: He struggles hitting curve balls. Much like Sano.

     

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    Guys we do not need to panic about our C depth.  We have Jeffers then Sanchez then Goday and the Banuelos. Banuelos is a good defensive C who will hit like Rortvedt has already hit in the majors.  Meaning his bat is mediocre at best.  That is what you want from a 4th C.  We are good.  He will be waiting in AAA for the call.  He was a 5th round draft pick we acquired from Seattle for the ability to spend a million on international players Or for literally nothing.  

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    3 hours ago, RJA said:

    Great detailed article, Seth.  It is actually a joy watching Jeffers frame pitches.  Part of me hopes there are not robot umpires as pitch framing is an art, and a fun and nuanced part of the game.  

     Believe me... Ryan Jeffers does NOT want a robot/electronic strike zone.

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    Agree with others this is great article. Jeffers is a hope- for guy, and I believe he will settle in. I look for his defense to continue to improve, if he can reach 250 and 20hr's that would be a succesful season. Someone mentioned Baneulos in AAA, absolutely agree we will see him this season. I have hopes Jeffers-Banuelos stabilize the position for next 3-4 yrs.

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    4 hours ago, killertwinfan said:

    I am not going to make any predictions, but our front office deserves a kick in the xxxxx for taking a position of strength and making it vulnerable.  Sure if Jeffers improves, we’ll forget all about it.  However to let Tortuga walk and trade Garver and Rortvedt shows a tremendous lack of planning. Was it really that important to dump JD’s contract?

    Letting Tortuga go was the right decision. He was a terrible catcher.

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    I hope Jeffers does pan out---he definitely has all the tools.  I appreciate the background on the field sense and communication skills.  So overlooked, such important intangibles and probably the reason the front office has shown so much faith in developing the other defensive skills.  Great insight.

    There is a reason you see very few tall and thick catchers in MLB.  Joe Mauer was a freak of nature, Jeffers probability of injury at a similar size is high.  That is one of the core reason's they moved on from Garver, injury probability went up substantially after a major issue that cost him major playing time last year.   That may sound heartless, but its the athletics business.

    If Jeffers will remain good, he will need a break from behind the plate regularly.  Sanchez will be a good alternative and hopefully Banuelos turns out to not only have good feet and glove, but game calling sense, as well.  

    Can't end a post without sticking with my them to DUMP SANO.  We have other players that need to push their way onto the field and prove their worth at 1B, LF and a 4th outfielder---but we know what Sano is.  He is not going to be anything different. He's not going to develop plate discipline or improve at 1st.  He's not going to learn how to hit the hook.  He continues to get a spot because of HR power, but he shouldn't.  He has missed a decent amount of time due to injury.  Put Kirilloff at first.  If Buxton is a 5 tool player, Sano is 1 of 5---move on.

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