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  1. Gary Sanchez had worn out his welcome in New York. He arrived as a top prospect and became an All Star and won a Silver Slugger Award. In the last two years, things have gone downhill. His bat no longer allowed the team to look past his awful defense. But at least one fan believes that he is capable of a big comeback season. Initially, I was excited about the Twins receiving a catcher via trade. After losing Mitch Garver via trade, receiving a catcher in a later trade made sense. That excitement cooled when looking at Gary Sanchez's offensive and defensive numbers. I quickly realized that he has not been good. He has had some moments of improvement and growth, but overall, nothing shows he is worth hanging onto. With everything he's had stacked against him, a change of scenery, moving from the Bronx Bombers to the Twins, maybe just what revives his career. As I break down his defensive and offensive woes, I also found that his hard work ethic, along with fresh hitting and catching coaches, maybe just what Sanchez needs to make a comeback. Replacing a fan favorite When news broke of Mitch Garver's trade to the Texas Rangers, there was a collective shock and sadness from Minnesota baseball fans. The trade was hard to digest, but the Twins had an everyday shortstop and still had Ryan Jeffers and Ben Rortvedt behind the plate. Just as fans were coming to terms with that trade, and then excited by the Sonny Gray trade, an even more shocking trade came to light. Late Sunday night, the Twins sent Josh Donaldson, Ben Rortvedt, and the newest acquisition Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Yankees in exchange for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela. The initial assumption was that the Twins might use Sanchez in a trade for pitching, but with Garver and Rortvedt on new teams, Gary Sanchez will likely be one of the Twins' catchers. There is no doubt that Garver showed big improvements over his time with the Twins, both offensively and defensively. Because of that, as well as his presence in the media and on Twitter, he became a fan favorite, The idea that Gary Sanchez of the hated Yankees is replacing a fan favorite may not be sitting well with many Twins fans. Defensive Struggles It will take a lot of change for Twins fans (or coaches or pitchers) to be comfortable with Sanchez behind the plate. His defensive metrics show that he struggles with pitch presentation. The numbers tend to improve and improve more as he works on his positioning and framing. They will have to improve for him to keep playing. https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/gary-sanchez-596142?stats=statcast-r-fielding-mlb The 6'2", 230-pound catcher has been tagged "The Worst Catcher in Baseball," and we can see why if you go solely on his defensive metrics. Watching the video helps as well. Gary Sanchez's pitch framing and balance issues have been the bane of his existence in New York. A catcher's success is based on his positioning behind the plate in an effort to effectively frame a pitch, which seems to be Sanchez's biggest downfall. He has consistently had a problem maintaining his balance on his left side, leading to dropping down to his knees, which has allowed a lot of passed balls. With framing and receiving, he sits back on his heels with his seat below knee level, and he's moving to the ball with his whole body. Gary Sanchez Catching Problems Dissected Because of his positioning, Sanchez catches the ball with large swiping motions instead of small movements receiving the ball. There is no thought that he will ever win any Gold Gloves behind the plate. Last season, he spent time in on the New York bench, including during the playoffs. The Yankees invested in help for Sanchez that may have helped him get started in the right direction, even if it was too little too late. Offensive Struggles Even though he wasn't what the Yankees were hoping for after his rookie season in 2017, the team continued to give him chances because of his offensive performance early in his career. Gary Sanchez is fantastic offensively, he is an All-Star, but the past two seasons, on top of his defensive struggles, he has still struggled offensively. The one-time All-Star has slumped recently in numbers. The one thing that Sanchez is very capable of is hitting home runs. Last year Sanchez hit 23 home runs, one of them being a clutch grand-slam to win the game on September 5th, 2021, to beat the Orioles. I hope that Sanchez is willing to do whatever it takes to improve and give the Twins the edge they are deserving. The Yankees saw enough potential in Sanchez to invest time and coaching to improve his skills and get back to where he was before his injuries in 2018. Willingness to do the work The Yankees hired a catching coach, Tanner Swanson (the former Twins minor league catching coordinator), specifically to work with Sanchez. Swanson previously helped Mitch Garver improve, and it seems that the catcher whisperer had done it again. While working with Swanson, Sanchez had a vast improvement cutting down on passed balls based on changing his position behind the plate. Sanchez does have an impressive pop time of 1.93 seconds (League average is 2.01 seconds) and a cannon for an arm. When he is set right, and in a good rhythm, Sanchez quickly gets people out almost anywhere on the field, which is a defensive dream. After working with Sanchez for some time, Tanner Swanson told AP News, "I think overall just a much more confident version of the Gary Sánchez than we saw in 2020," Swanson said. "He has attacked the offseason and been accountable for his performance in 2020. I think he's in a perfect place, and his process is sound. I've been pleased." With Swanson at the helm, Sanchez learned how to use minimal glove movement to improve his strike count by reaching from below the strike zone and making small quick movements to steal the 'low-strike,' a technique Swanson also worked on with Mitch Garver, Ben Rortvedt, and other catchers in the Twins organization. As Sanchez continued to work on his defense, it was clear that he was not improving much. When he stopped being productive with the bat too, he needed to move on from the Yankees. Gary Sanchez is not a lost cause yet; perhaps a change of scenery by moving to Minnesota, a new catching coach, and a second chance would benefit the catcher. Why I Believe Gary Sanchez Can Have a Big Comeback Season The Twins have hired several new coaches in the offseason, but two will be especially instrumental in working with Sanchez. David Popkins is the new hitting coach, and on December 10th, the Minnesota Twins hired a new coach, former big-league catcher Hank Conger who has been coaching in KBO since before the pandemic. Hank Conger is a former MLB catcher who bounced around as a coach in the minors for three seasons after his 2015 season with the Astros. He has spent the past two years as a coach in Korea for the Lotte Giants. While this will be his MLB debut as a coach, the resounding applause of his hire is promising for the Twins and, hopefully, the catcher core. Conger has seen a lot of change from when he was drafted and began in professional baseball to now. Pitch framing is his most significant focus. All of his managers were former catchers; Conger was able to get many perspectives that he credits with who he was as a catcher and how he is now as a catcher's coach. When it comes to pitchers and hitters that come up, Conger's focus is on how he can help the catchers have all the information on his pitchers and the opponent's hitters. Information comes from scouting reports or in-game information. The relationship with the pitchers is just as crucial to Conger as it should be to the catcher. The catcher-pitcher relationship is the most important relationship on the field; from game management to communication, there must be trust between the two players and, most importantly, hard work. Sanchez is no stranger to hard work with pitchers; in fact, he's previously worked with Sonny Gray, the most recent Twins pitching acquisition from the Cincinnati Reds, and they have a history. Both players played for the Yankees in 2018, but the relationship was not productive. Gray had Sanchez as a catcher, but after a string of miscommunication and inconsistent tempo between the two, Gray opted for Austin Romine as his catcher. That did not stop Sanchez from wanting to improve. Gary Sanchez spent a lot of time watching Gray and Romine from the dugout, learning the pitcher and catcher's pitches, personality, and tempo. The hope is that the reunion in a new environment will work together with the help of the pitching and catching staff to create the tempo they couldn't find in 2018. Be ready for a big season Sanchez is no stranger to powerful hitting and elite catching. The past two seasons, he certainly has struggled to find his stride. Whether it was a case of being in his head or his mechanics, there is an opportunity here in Minnesota for Sanchez to start fresh. If Sanchez can improve his form behind the plate and framing, he just might become a dangerous weapon for the Twins, both defensive and offensively. He already possesses the power at the plate with his swing to be a part of the beloved "bomba-squad." Whether as the DH or behind the plate, he has the potential to be a significant asset on this squad. The Twins organization is set up for players to succeed. They are finding the coaches and players to grow a successful team, and if he puts in the work to be successful, and with the new rotation of pitchers and coaching staff, Sanchez will have a chance to shine. View full article
  2. Initially, I was excited about the Twins receiving a catcher via trade. After losing Mitch Garver via trade, receiving a catcher in a later trade made sense. That excitement cooled when looking at Gary Sanchez's offensive and defensive numbers. I quickly realized that he has not been good. He has had some moments of improvement and growth, but overall, nothing shows he is worth hanging onto. With everything he's had stacked against him, a change of scenery, moving from the Bronx Bombers to the Twins, maybe just what revives his career. As I break down his defensive and offensive woes, I also found that his hard work ethic, along with fresh hitting and catching coaches, maybe just what Sanchez needs to make a comeback. Replacing a fan favorite When news broke of Mitch Garver's trade to the Texas Rangers, there was a collective shock and sadness from Minnesota baseball fans. The trade was hard to digest, but the Twins had an everyday shortstop and still had Ryan Jeffers and Ben Rortvedt behind the plate. Just as fans were coming to terms with that trade, and then excited by the Sonny Gray trade, an even more shocking trade came to light. Late Sunday night, the Twins sent Josh Donaldson, Ben Rortvedt, and the newest acquisition Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Yankees in exchange for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela. The initial assumption was that the Twins might use Sanchez in a trade for pitching, but with Garver and Rortvedt on new teams, Gary Sanchez will likely be one of the Twins' catchers. There is no doubt that Garver showed big improvements over his time with the Twins, both offensively and defensively. Because of that, as well as his presence in the media and on Twitter, he became a fan favorite, The idea that Gary Sanchez of the hated Yankees is replacing a fan favorite may not be sitting well with many Twins fans. Defensive Struggles It will take a lot of change for Twins fans (or coaches or pitchers) to be comfortable with Sanchez behind the plate. His defensive metrics show that he struggles with pitch presentation. The numbers tend to improve and improve more as he works on his positioning and framing. They will have to improve for him to keep playing. https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/gary-sanchez-596142?stats=statcast-r-fielding-mlb The 6'2", 230-pound catcher has been tagged "The Worst Catcher in Baseball," and we can see why if you go solely on his defensive metrics. Watching the video helps as well. Gary Sanchez's pitch framing and balance issues have been the bane of his existence in New York. A catcher's success is based on his positioning behind the plate in an effort to effectively frame a pitch, which seems to be Sanchez's biggest downfall. He has consistently had a problem maintaining his balance on his left side, leading to dropping down to his knees, which has allowed a lot of passed balls. With framing and receiving, he sits back on his heels with his seat below knee level, and he's moving to the ball with his whole body. Gary Sanchez Catching Problems Dissected Because of his positioning, Sanchez catches the ball with large swiping motions instead of small movements receiving the ball. There is no thought that he will ever win any Gold Gloves behind the plate. Last season, he spent time in on the New York bench, including during the playoffs. The Yankees invested in help for Sanchez that may have helped him get started in the right direction, even if it was too little too late. Offensive Struggles Even though he wasn't what the Yankees were hoping for after his rookie season in 2017, the team continued to give him chances because of his offensive performance early in his career. Gary Sanchez is fantastic offensively, he is an All-Star, but the past two seasons, on top of his defensive struggles, he has still struggled offensively. The one-time All-Star has slumped recently in numbers. The one thing that Sanchez is very capable of is hitting home runs. Last year Sanchez hit 23 home runs, one of them being a clutch grand-slam to win the game on September 5th, 2021, to beat the Orioles. I hope that Sanchez is willing to do whatever it takes to improve and give the Twins the edge they are deserving. The Yankees saw enough potential in Sanchez to invest time and coaching to improve his skills and get back to where he was before his injuries in 2018. Willingness to do the work The Yankees hired a catching coach, Tanner Swanson (the former Twins minor league catching coordinator), specifically to work with Sanchez. Swanson previously helped Mitch Garver improve, and it seems that the catcher whisperer had done it again. While working with Swanson, Sanchez had a vast improvement cutting down on passed balls based on changing his position behind the plate. Sanchez does have an impressive pop time of 1.93 seconds (League average is 2.01 seconds) and a cannon for an arm. When he is set right, and in a good rhythm, Sanchez quickly gets people out almost anywhere on the field, which is a defensive dream. After working with Sanchez for some time, Tanner Swanson told AP News, "I think overall just a much more confident version of the Gary Sánchez than we saw in 2020," Swanson said. "He has attacked the offseason and been accountable for his performance in 2020. I think he's in a perfect place, and his process is sound. I've been pleased." With Swanson at the helm, Sanchez learned how to use minimal glove movement to improve his strike count by reaching from below the strike zone and making small quick movements to steal the 'low-strike,' a technique Swanson also worked on with Mitch Garver, Ben Rortvedt, and other catchers in the Twins organization. As Sanchez continued to work on his defense, it was clear that he was not improving much. When he stopped being productive with the bat too, he needed to move on from the Yankees. Gary Sanchez is not a lost cause yet; perhaps a change of scenery by moving to Minnesota, a new catching coach, and a second chance would benefit the catcher. Why I Believe Gary Sanchez Can Have a Big Comeback Season The Twins have hired several new coaches in the offseason, but two will be especially instrumental in working with Sanchez. David Popkins is the new hitting coach, and on December 10th, the Minnesota Twins hired a new coach, former big-league catcher Hank Conger who has been coaching in KBO since before the pandemic. Hank Conger is a former MLB catcher who bounced around as a coach in the minors for three seasons after his 2015 season with the Astros. He has spent the past two years as a coach in Korea for the Lotte Giants. While this will be his MLB debut as a coach, the resounding applause of his hire is promising for the Twins and, hopefully, the catcher core. Conger has seen a lot of change from when he was drafted and began in professional baseball to now. Pitch framing is his most significant focus. All of his managers were former catchers; Conger was able to get many perspectives that he credits with who he was as a catcher and how he is now as a catcher's coach. When it comes to pitchers and hitters that come up, Conger's focus is on how he can help the catchers have all the information on his pitchers and the opponent's hitters. Information comes from scouting reports or in-game information. The relationship with the pitchers is just as crucial to Conger as it should be to the catcher. The catcher-pitcher relationship is the most important relationship on the field; from game management to communication, there must be trust between the two players and, most importantly, hard work. Sanchez is no stranger to hard work with pitchers; in fact, he's previously worked with Sonny Gray, the most recent Twins pitching acquisition from the Cincinnati Reds, and they have a history. Both players played for the Yankees in 2018, but the relationship was not productive. Gray had Sanchez as a catcher, but after a string of miscommunication and inconsistent tempo between the two, Gray opted for Austin Romine as his catcher. That did not stop Sanchez from wanting to improve. Gary Sanchez spent a lot of time watching Gray and Romine from the dugout, learning the pitcher and catcher's pitches, personality, and tempo. The hope is that the reunion in a new environment will work together with the help of the pitching and catching staff to create the tempo they couldn't find in 2018. Be ready for a big season Sanchez is no stranger to powerful hitting and elite catching. The past two seasons, he certainly has struggled to find his stride. Whether it was a case of being in his head or his mechanics, there is an opportunity here in Minnesota for Sanchez to start fresh. If Sanchez can improve his form behind the plate and framing, he just might become a dangerous weapon for the Twins, both defensive and offensively. He already possesses the power at the plate with his swing to be a part of the beloved "bomba-squad." Whether as the DH or behind the plate, he has the potential to be a significant asset on this squad. The Twins organization is set up for players to succeed. They are finding the coaches and players to grow a successful team, and if he puts in the work to be successful, and with the new rotation of pitchers and coaching staff, Sanchez will have a chance to shine.
  3. It was just announced this afternoon that St. Paul Saints hitting coach Matt Borgschulte has been named a Co-Hitting Coach for the Baltimore Orioles today. Borgschulte joined the Twins in 2018 after time in the Cardinals organization and at SW Missouri State. In 2018, he coached in the GCL. In 2019, he had that job for the Ft. Myers Miracle. In 2021, he was named the hitting coach in Triple-A St. Paul. In recent years, the Twins have lost the following minor league coaches to big league jobs: David Eckstein - minor league hitting coordinator became the Pirates hitting coach, a position he held for about 3 years. Peter Fatse - minor league hitting coordinator became the Red Sox assistant hitting coach in 2020. Just last week, he became the team's hitting coach. Tanner Swanson - minor league catching coordinator became the Yankees catching coach in 2019, I believe. Am I missing anyone? Obviously Jeremy Hefner was the Twins bullpen coach in 2019 and became the Mets pitching coach in 2020.
  4. A month ago, Swanson was acclimating himself to pinstripes in Tampa. Then, days later he was back at home in Seattle, battling the global pandemic from the indoors during the extended rainy Northwest spring. Now with the season on hold, he began fielding questions from fellow coaches who were interested in his guidance. He would set up a Zoom session and talk shop, educating others on how he had pushed player development from a catching standpoint. “I found myself over the course of a week doing a lot of one-on-one interactions and I figured there would be a more efficient way to do this,” says Swanson. “I also saw there was an opportunity to contribute to the greater cause.” Swanson rallied some personal friends, contacting Kainoa Correa with the San Francisco Giants and former colleague and current Twins’ minor league infield and baserunning coordinator, Billy Boyer. “We’re both on the Twitter world so we get asked questions quite often,” says Boyer, “and Swanny had the idea that if we are going to share some information, use this time to fundraise for a good cause and use our platform to do that.” The concept is to amass a collection of coaches willing to share their insights to their audience in exchange for donations to aid in COVID-19 research. Coaches like Swanson and Boyer will be hosting weekly Zoom webinars that will focus on professional development for coaches looking to expand their knowledge. Swanson says the list of participating coaches is growing by the day. The experience will be fairly organic, giving attendees access to the minds of coaches at the forefront of their specialties. “We’re pitching it as a unique opportunity to speak specifically about our position expertise,” Swanson envisions. “Billy and Kai are going to do something on infield play. I’m going to offer a weekly, 30-minute session on catching development. Really just a Q&A, open-format, just to facilitate some dialogue and answer some questions and be available to help amatuer coaches as needed.” Swanson will be focusing on his strength -- catching. He’s received his share of national notoriety for helping Mitch Garver improve his defense in 2019 and now hopes in doing the same with the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez. “Whether you are a coach or just an avid fan, there’s a lot of curiosities about these recent trends in catcher development,” Swanson admits. He welcomes non-coaches to participate, either through donations or the webinar. The new catching philosophies have made people ask a lot of questions, such as how can they block or throw out runners from that position. “All questions will be fair,” he says. Similarly, Boyer doesn’t foresee his interaction time to be limited to just those who are career coaches. He wants to reach all kinds of coaches -- from those working with prospects to little leaguers. “It doesn’t have to be baseball,” Boyer says. “It could be fast pitch. It could be other coaches. We’re just trying to get some information and maybe the art of coaching and be able to share as much as we can at a time where everybody is hungry but now that we’re fighting COVID and everybody is at home, it’s a good opportunity to share and learn for personal growth reasons.” Boyer has been at the forefront of the infield development for the Minnesota Twins, an area of the game that has potentially lagged behind other areas when it comes to improvement through analytics or altering techniques. This past January, Boyer spent time in Minnesota and presented at the MN BAT Summit, educating local high school and college coaches on the on-going evolution of the infield landscape. Boyer points to Swanson’s time with the team and his data-driven approach to catching that changed the entire philosophy of that position and he sees a future where infield play undergoes a similar revolutionary transition. “We’re trying to use analytics to enhance our ability to defend but we’re also trying to advance our techniques to take advantage of analytics,” Boyer said this spring. https://twitter.com/BillyBallTime7/status/1245382396494536704 The online seminars will be free, with links being tweeting out by Swanson and Boyer, respectively, but donations to the Seattle-based research hospital, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, are encouraged. Both coaches, who call Seattle home in the offseason, have a personal connection to that cause (Boyer’s wife lost her father to melanoma skin cancer at a young age and Swanson’s sister passed in 2018 after a battle with breast cancer) while the center’s research on COVID-19 has been groundbreaking. “It’s a large organization out here in the Northwest and doing some really important work,” Swanson says. “It’s something that is really close to both of us,” adds Boyer. “We’re trying to give back, especially in a time of need. We just felt that anything we could do to make some money for them and help the fight was a worthy cause.” Anyone can donate to the COACHES VS COVID cause while those interested in attending the webinars should follow Swanson and Boyer on Twitter for updates and join them this Saturday to learn more about the game. One hundred percent of the donations will go to the Fred Hutchinson Research Center.
  5. While baseball across the country has been placed on an indefinite hiatus, some professional coaches are trying to offer their educational services while fundraising to support COVID-19 research. It’s called COACHES vs COVID and the concept was created by former Minnesota Twins’ minor league catching coordinator and current New York Yankees catching director and quality control coach Tanner Swanson.A month ago, Swanson was acclimating himself to pinstripes in Tampa. Then, days later he was back at home in Seattle, battling the global pandemic from the indoors during the extended rainy Northwest spring. Now with the season on hold, he began fielding questions from fellow coaches who were interested in his guidance. He would set up a Zoom session and talk shop, educating others on how he had pushed player development from a catching standpoint. “I found myself over the course of a week doing a lot of one-on-one interactions and I figured there would be a more efficient way to do this,” says Swanson. “I also saw there was an opportunity to contribute to the greater cause.” Swanson rallied some personal friends, contacting Kainoa Correa with the San Francisco Giants and former colleague and current Twins’ minor league infield and baserunning coordinator, Billy Boyer. “We’re both on the Twitter world so we get asked questions quite often,” says Boyer, “and Swanny had the idea that if we are going to share some information, use this time to fundraise for a good cause and use our platform to do that.” The concept is to amass a collection of coaches willing to share their insights to their audience in exchange for donations to aid in COVID-19 research. Coaches like Swanson and Boyer will be hosting weekly Zoom webinars that will focus on professional development for coaches looking to expand their knowledge. Swanson says the list of participating coaches is growing by the day. The experience will be fairly organic, giving attendees access to the minds of coaches at the forefront of their specialties. “We’re pitching it as a unique opportunity to speak specifically about our position expertise,” Swanson envisions. “Billy and Kai are going to do something on infield play. I’m going to offer a weekly, 30-minute session on catching development. Really just a Q&A, open-format, just to facilitate some dialogue and answer some questions and be available to help amatuer coaches as needed.” Swanson will be focusing on his strength -- catching. He’s received his share of national notoriety for helping Mitch Garver improve his defense in 2019 and now hopes in doing the same with the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez. “Whether you are a coach or just an avid fan, there’s a lot of curiosities about these recent trends in catcher development,” Swanson admits. He welcomes non-coaches to participate, either through donations or the webinar. The new catching philosophies have made people ask a lot of questions, such as how can they block or throw out runners from that position. “All questions will be fair,” he says. Similarly, Boyer doesn’t foresee his interaction time to be limited to just those who are career coaches. He wants to reach all kinds of coaches -- from those working with prospects to little leaguers. “It doesn’t have to be baseball,” Boyer says. “It could be fast pitch. It could be other coaches. We’re just trying to get some information and maybe the art of coaching and be able to share as much as we can at a time where everybody is hungry but now that we’re fighting COVID and everybody is at home, it’s a good opportunity to share and learn for personal growth reasons.” Boyer has been at the forefront of the infield development for the Minnesota Twins, an area of the game that has potentially lagged behind other areas when it comes to improvement through analytics or altering techniques. This past January, Boyer spent time in Minnesota and presented at the MN BAT Summit, educating local high school and college coaches on the on-going evolution of the infield landscape. Boyer points to Swanson’s time with the team and his data-driven approach to catching that changed the entire philosophy of that position and he sees a future where infield play undergoes a similar revolutionary transition. “We’re trying to use analytics to enhance our ability to defend but we’re also trying to advance our techniques to take advantage of analytics,” Boyer said this spring. The online seminars will be free, with links being tweeting out by Swanson and Boyer, respectively, but donations to the Seattle-based research hospital, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, are encouraged. Both coaches, who call Seattle home in the offseason, have a personal connection to that cause (Boyer’s wife lost her father to melanoma skin cancer at a young age and Swanson’s sister passed in 2018 after a battle with breast cancer) while the center’s research on COVID-19 has been groundbreaking. “It’s a large organization out here in the Northwest and doing some really important work,” Swanson says. “It’s something that is really close to both of us,” adds Boyer. “We’re trying to give back, especially in a time of need. We just felt that anything we could do to make some money for them and help the fight was a worthy cause.” Anyone can donate to the COACHES VS COVID cause while those interested in attending the webinars should follow Swanson and Boyer on Twitter for updates and join them this Saturday to learn more about the game. One hundred percent of the donations will go to the Fred Hutchinson Research Center. Click here to view the article
  6. Not all minor leaguers are top prspects,, but once given an opportunity, you never know what will happen. Our guests today weren't first-round picks, but they have found themselves in good positions, worked hard and found success in their young careers. Austin Schulfer and Caleb Hamilton are climbing the ladder, and they're trying to get to the big leagues where our third guest, Nick Anderson reached in 2019. Anderson wasn't a prospect. He came through the independent leagues and gives hope and motivation to all minor leaguers that if they work hard and things break right, the big-league dream is out there for anyone. Austin Schulfer was the Twins 19th round draft pick in 2018 out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he set several pitching records. He spent the 2019 season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels where he worked five innings in a combined no-hitter. Off the field, he has developed a large gamer following on his Twitch TV link. (his interview begins at the 12:30 mark) http://traffic.libsyn.com/sethstohs/GTKE_Podcast_Ep_8.mp3 Caleb Hamilton was the Twins 23rd round pick in 2016 out of Oregon State. It was the second time he had been drafted, but his journey (which involved a AA All Star appearance and reached AAA in 2019) hasn't always been smooth. Find out about his trek, his long-time relationship with now-former Twins catching coordinator Tanner Swanson, playing at Oregon State, becoming a catcher and working with some of the very hard-throwing Twins pitching prospects. (39:35 mark) http://traffic.libsyn.com/sethstohs/GTKE_Podcast_Ep_8.mp3 Nick Anderson's story is pretty incredible. Born in Crosby, Minnesota, he attended Brainerd High School. He played three years at St. Cloud State before heading to Mayville State for his senior year. He was drafted by the Brewers but never offered a contract. He played independent ball until the Twins signed him late in the 2015 season. He moved up the organizational ladder and pitched well in 2018 at Rochester. In his offseasons, he worked construction in Minnesota winters. He didn't receive a September call-up and instead of adding him to their 40-man roster, the Twins drafted the hard-throwing right-hander to the Miami Marlins. He made the Opening Day roster and pitched well. At the trade deadline, he was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays where he struck out 17.3 batters per nine innings. He became a reliable late-inning arm for the Rays in their playoff run. We talked to him about being traded, making the Marlins roster, finding success, getting traded and much more. (1:16:10 mark) http://traffic.libsyn.com/sethstohs/GTKE_Podcast_Ep_8.mp3 You can subscribe to the Get to Know 'Em podcast on iTunes. or follow Libsyn for new episodes here as well. PAST EPISODES Episode 1: Get to know Niko Guardado (Actor and son of Eddie Guardado) Episode 2: Get to know Pat Dean, Brent Rooker Episode 3: Get to know Royce Lewis, AJ Achter Episode 4: Get to know Devin Smeltzer Episode 5: Get to know Jaylin Davis, Tyler Wells Episode 6: Get to know: Travis Blankenhorn, LaMonte Wade Episode 7: Get to know: Matt Wallner (and Ten Minutes with Tyler Wells) Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Not registered? Click here to create an account. To stay up to date, follow Twins Daily on Twitter and Facebook.
  7. In this week's episode, we get to know two current Twins minor leaguers and a former Twins minor leaguer who became one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball in 2019. Get to know right-handed pitcher Austin Schulfer, catcher Caleb Hamilton and right-handed pitcher of the Tampa Bay Rays, Nick Anderson.Not all minor leaguers are top prspects,, but once given an opportunity, you never know what will happen. Our guests today weren't first-round picks, but they have found themselves in good positions, worked hard and found success in their young careers. Austin Schulfer and Caleb Hamilton are climbing the ladder, and they're trying to get to the big leagues where our third guest, Nick Anderson reached in 2019. Anderson wasn't a prospect. He came through the independent leagues and gives hope and motivation to all minor leaguers that if they work hard and things break right, the big-league dream is out there for anyone. Austin Schulfer was the Twins 19th round draft pick in 2018 out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he set several pitching records. He spent the 2019 season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels where he worked five innings in a combined no-hitter. Off the field, he has developed a large gamer following on his Twitch TV link. (his interview begins at the 12:30 mark) Caleb Hamilton was the Twins 23rd round pick in 2016 out of Oregon State. It was the second time he had been drafted, but his journey (which involved a AA All Star appearance and reached AAA in 2019) hasn't always been smooth. Find out about his trek, his long-time relationship with now-former Twins catching coordinator Tanner Swanson, playing at Oregon State, becoming a catcher and working with some of the very hard-throwing Twins pitching prospects. (39:35 mark) Nick Anderson's story is pretty incredible. Born in Crosby, Minnesota, he attended Brainerd High School. He played three years at St. Cloud State before heading to Mayville State for his senior year. He was drafted by the Brewers but never offered a contract. He played independent ball until the Twins signed him late in the 2015 season. He moved up the organizational ladder and pitched well in 2018 at Rochester. In his offseasons, he worked construction in Minnesota winters. He didn't receive a September call-up and instead of adding him to their 40-man roster, the Twins drafted the hard-throwing right-hander to the Miami Marlins. He made the Opening Day roster and pitched well. At the trade deadline, he was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays where he struck out 17.3 batters per nine innings. He became a reliable late-inning arm for the Rays in their playoff run. We talked to him about being traded, making the Marlins roster, finding success, getting traded and much more. (1:16:10 mark) You can subscribe to the Get to Know 'Em podcast on iTunes. or follow Libsyn for new episodes here as well. PAST EPISODES Episode 1: Get to know Niko Guardado (Actor and son of Eddie Guardado) Episode 2: Get to know Pat Dean, Brent Rooker Episode 3: Get to know Royce Lewis, AJ Achter Episode 4: Get to know Devin Smeltzer Episode 5: Get to know Jaylin Davis, Tyler Wells Episode 6: Get to know: Travis Blankenhorn, LaMonte Wade Episode 7: Get to know: Matt Wallner (and Ten Minutes with Tyler Wells) Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Not registered? Click here to create an account. To stay up to date, follow Twins Daily on Twitter and Facebook. Click here to view the article
  8. In a season full of pleasant surprises for the Minnesota Twins, there are perhaps none more so than the play of third-year catcher Mitch Garver. After being thrust into a bigger role than expected in 2018, thanks to Jason Castro going down with a season-ending knee injury, Garver has settled back in this season, splitting time, almost 50/50, with Castro. As a result, the Twins have been able to keep Garver fresh, and leverage him in the best way possible, to maximize his abilities. Among the 29 catchers with at least 250 plate appearances this season, Garver’s 140 wRC+ is in a distant first place. This is helped, in large part, by the 23 home runs he has belted, which is second among all MLB catchers. However, Garver’s improvement at the plate isn’t the only step forward he has taken this year, as he has improved dramatically behind the plate, as well.During the offseason, and into spring training, we heard a lot about the work Twins Catching Coordinator Tanner Swanson, was putting in with Twins catchers to improve their defense behind the plate, specifically with regard to framing pitches in the strike zone. Mitch Garver was the main point of emphasis, as he was known for being a poor pitch framer as he was coming up through the minor leagues. This was apparent in his first full season in the bigs. Among the 60 qualified catchers in 2018 (who received at least six called pitches per team game), Garver ranked 58th, with a strike called rate of just 42 percent. However, Garver has made quite the improvement in 2019, as his strike called rate has jumped up to 47.7 percent, which ranks 34th, among the 59 catchers who qualify. While you still wouldn’t confuse Garver for one of the best pitch framers in the game, a jump from the bottom of the pack, all the way up to around league average, is a drastic improvement. Note, only pitches on or near the edge of the strike zone were included in this sample, as those are the ones where catcher framing is most evident. So, what changes has Mitch Garver made to improve his pitch framing abilities so much from one season to the next? The most apparent change is with Garver’s stance behind the plate. Here are a couple of clips, comparing Garver’s stance from last year to this year. Mitch Garver 2018 Download attachment: Jose Berrios GIF-downsized_large.gif Mitch Garver 2019 Download attachment: Jose Berrios GIF-downsized_large (1).gif From these clips, it is apparent that Garver has taken the new approach of going down to one knee, which allows him to get lower, as he receives the pitch. This helps Garver when he is trying to frame a low pitch, as the pitch appears to be higher to the umpire that it actually is, because Garver is catching pitches at the bottom of the strike zone at chest level, as opposed to stabbing down at the ball with his glove. That is, at least in theory, how it is supposed to work, but is this actually helping Garver better frame those lower pitches? Let’s go to the data, available on Baseball Savant, to find out. In the diagram below, there are three charts, illustrating three different areas surrounding the strike zone. The strike zone itself is represented by the green dotted rectangle, so the three zones are made up of areas that are half in, and half out, of the strike zone. Download attachment: Bottom of the strike zone charts.PNG In theory, the percentage of the called strikes, on non-swings, should be equivalent to the percentage of the area of the zone that is inside of the strike zone. For reference, among pitches that were not swung at, so far in 2019, 34 percent of pitches in Zone 17 have been called a strike, 50 percent of pitches in Zone 18 have been called a strike, and 26 percent of the pitches in Zone 19 have been called a strike. In 2018, Mitch Garver checked in well below average, as a pitch framer in each of these three zones, as he had a called strike percentage of just 28.4%, 33.7% and 15.2%, in zones 17, 18 and 19, respectively. Compared to other catchers in those zones, Garver ranked 47th in Zone 17, 59th in Zone 18, and 57th in Zone 19, among the 60 catchers who received enough pitches to qualify, in 2018. Clearly, Garver needed to improve his pitch framing abilities in the bottom part of the zone. Fast forward to 2019, and he has done exactly that. Garver’s called strike rate in Zone 17 is up to 36.8%, in Zone 18 it is up to 54.8%, and in Zone 19 it is up to 29.3%. Those percentages have Garver ranking 20th, 15th, and 21st, among the 59 qualified catchers, this season, in those three zones respectively. That is a remarkable improvement from one of the worst pitch framers at the bottom of the zone, to being well above-average after just one offseason’s worth of work. You really need to tip your cap to Garver, Tanner Swanson, and anyone else that played a part in improving his pitch framing abilities. With the looming reality that umpires may soon be no longer calling balls and strikes in major league baseball games, pitch framing might become a moot point in the not too distant future, but for now, it is still a very important part of the game, and one that can have a lot of impact on a pitching staff’s overall numbers. As Tanner Swanson and company continue to work with Mitch Garver, we might see even more improvements in his pitch framing abilities. Click here to view the article
  9. During the offseason, and into spring training, we heard a lot about the work Twins Catching Coordinator Tanner Swanson, was putting in with Twins catchers to improve their defense behind the plate, specifically with regard to framing pitches in the strike zone. Mitch Garver was the main point of emphasis, as he was known for being a poor pitch framer as he was coming up through the minor leagues. This was apparent in his first full season in the bigs. Among the 60 qualified catchers in 2018 (who received at least six called pitches per team game), Garver ranked 58th, with a strike called rate of just 42 percent. However, Garver has made quite the improvement in 2019, as his strike called rate has jumped up to 47.7 percent, which ranks 34th, among the 59 catchers who qualify. While you still wouldn’t confuse Garver for one of the best pitch framers in the game, a jump from the bottom of the pack, all the way up to around league average, is a drastic improvement. Note, only pitches on or near the edge of the strike zone were included in this sample, as those are the ones where catcher framing is most evident. So, what changes has Mitch Garver made to improve his pitch framing abilities so much from one season to the next? The most apparent change is with Garver’s stance behind the plate. Here are a couple of clips, comparing Garver’s stance from last year to this year. Mitch Garver 2018 Mitch Garver 2019 From these clips, it is apparent that Garver has taken the new approach of going down to one knee, which allows him to get lower, as he receives the pitch. This helps Garver when he is trying to frame a low pitch, as the pitch appears to be higher to the umpire that it actually is, because Garver is catching pitches at the bottom of the strike zone at chest level, as opposed to stabbing down at the ball with his glove. That is, at least in theory, how it is supposed to work, but is this actually helping Garver better frame those lower pitches? Let’s go to the data, available on Baseball Savant, to find out. In the diagram below, there are three charts, illustrating three different areas surrounding the strike zone. The strike zone itself is represented by the green dotted rectangle, so the three zones are made up of areas that are half in, and half out, of the strike zone. In theory, the percentage of the called strikes, on non-swings, should be equivalent to the percentage of the area of the zone that is inside of the strike zone. For reference, among pitches that were not swung at, so far in 2019, 34 percent of pitches in Zone 17 have been called a strike, 50 percent of pitches in Zone 18 have been called a strike, and 26 percent of the pitches in Zone 19 have been called a strike. In 2018, Mitch Garver checked in well below average, as a pitch framer in each of these three zones, as he had a called strike percentage of just 28.4%, 33.7% and 15.2%, in zones 17, 18 and 19, respectively. Compared to other catchers in those zones, Garver ranked 47th in Zone 17, 59th in Zone 18, and 57th in Zone 19, among the 60 catchers who received enough pitches to qualify, in 2018. Clearly, Garver needed to improve his pitch framing abilities in the bottom part of the zone. Fast forward to 2019, and he has done exactly that. Garver’s called strike rate in Zone 17 is up to 36.8%, in Zone 18 it is up to 54.8%, and in Zone 19 it is up to 29.3%. Those percentages have Garver ranking 20th, 15th, and 21st, among the 59 qualified catchers, this season, in those three zones respectively. That is a remarkable improvement from one of the worst pitch framers at the bottom of the zone, to being well above-average after just one offseason’s worth of work. You really need to tip your cap to Garver, Tanner Swanson, and anyone else that played a part in improving his pitch framing abilities. With the looming reality that umpires may soon be no longer calling balls and strikes in major league baseball games, pitch framing might become a moot point in the not too distant future, but for now, it is still a very important part of the game, and one that can have a lot of impact on a pitching staff’s overall numbers. As Tanner Swanson and company continue to work with Mitch Garver, we might see even more improvements in his pitch framing abilities.
  10. Ryan Jeffers was recently named by Twins Daily as the Twins #13 ranked prospect. He was a walk-on at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and didn’t start often as a freshman. He wasn’t on the MLB Top 200 draft prospects in 2018. So when the Twins used their secnd-round pick last year on the catcher, eyes were raised. And Jeffers is just fine with that. I caught up with the talented catcher at Twins Fest about his background, his game, and proving people wrong.Ryan Jeffers grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he became a star on the baseball team at Sanderson High School. He played on Perfect Game and Impact teams nationally as well as Dirtbags, a developmental team that has many MLB alumni including Chris Archer, Wil Myers and Kyle and Corey Seager. Jeffers competed on the organization’s top team. For college, he made the two-hour drive south from Raleigh to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. “I had a couple of options. Wilmington wasn’t the highest offer, but I felt the best going there. That was going to give me the best place to develop, and best coaching staff, and I really felt comfortable there. So I made the decision to go there. I didn’t play a ton as a freshman, but I worked really hard and earned my spot, earned my starting job.” As a freshman, he played in just 13 games, but he hit .348 (8-for-23) with three doubles and a homer. After that, Jeffers became a starter and made the most of it. As a sophomore, he played in 53 games and hit .328/.422/.604 (1.026) with 19 doubles and 10 triples. He was even better as a junior in 2018. In 62 games, he hit .315/.460/.635 (1.095) with 22 doubles and 16 home runs. As he got more playing time, the scouts certainly took notice. Jeffers noted, “Sophomore year, we had a lot of really good players, so there were a lot of scouts there all the time. So they got to see me play a little bit then. Then my junior year, it just kind of started exploding on me. A lot of people were talking, and I had a lot of conversations.” Last June, the Twins surprised a lot of people, a lot of “experts” when they made him their second-round pick. His selection was aired on MLB Network and their panel talked about how he wasn’t even in their Top 200 draft prospects. They said that he was definitely considered a bat-first catcher, that he could hit, but there were a lot of questions about his defense behind the plate. Jeffers watched. He heard his name called and all of his question marks put out on national TV. His response to that discussion should please Twins fans. “It’s kind of fun. It’s kind of my story, coming through high school. I actually walked on at UNC-W. So I’ve kind of always earned my spot. Coming into the draft, being under the radar there too, and it’s just been the story of my career.” But as we know, it just takes one team to take a chance. Jeffers continued, “The Twins believed in me. The Twins loved me. But still there’s a lot of doubters out there, doubt if I can still catch, doubt if I can do that. All I can say is just watch me. Just watch me. I bet you I’ll prove you wrong.” Jeffers has always been a catcher. “I grew up as a catcher. When I got to high school, I just kept catching.“ He was a catcher at Wilmington. He spent a little time in left field to keep his bat in the lineup, but to keep his legs fresh behind the plate. He’s heard the questions about his defense time and again. It has become a source of motivation. “It’s happened to me for so long. It adds a little fuel to the fire, but it’s always been my goal to be the best catcher that I can be. Obviously the offense is going to be there, but my goal is to be the best catcher I can be, and that’s something I plan to do for the rest of my career. I plan on catching here at Target Field one day, hopefully in the near future.” While it’s great to have that motivation, Jeffers knows that it is an area where he has room to improve. He touted the value of having minor league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson present, particularly throughout the offseason, to work with him on the technical aspects of the position. “That’s always been the part of my game that I need to work on the most. Yeah, I work on offense, but it’s something that's been a lot more natural to me. Defensively, I think I’m such a quick learner and have the aptitude to learn so fast. In college, I never had a catching coach. I was pretty much self-taught, and I still had numbers that were comparable with some of the better receivers in the nation. When I got to pro ball, I worked with Tanner (Swanson), I just soaked in so much knowledge and I’ve been feeling better than ever behind the plate. Worked hard this offseason getting ready for the year behind the plate.” In fact, reports from a variety of sources indicate that his defense impressed people in and around the organization, both by the eye test and through some statistics, specifically his pitch framing. Jeffers adds, “Receiving is the most important aspect of the catcher’s job, by far. Tanner always tells us, ‘Think of how many times you receive the ball versus how many times you throw the ball per game.’ It’s like 200 to maybe one or two.That’s the part where you, as a catcher, can make your biggest impact on the game. That’s what I’ve really taken into the offseason to focus on.” Another part of the fun of catching is trying to think with and even out-think the opposing batters. It is an aspect of the game that Jeffers really enjoys. “I was a physics major at school. I’m very scientific, analytic, a really good thinker. So I love that kind of strategic part of catching, calling the game, reading the hitters, reading the pitcher, reading emotions. I love that part.” As a side note, I asked Jeffers if he plans to return to college to finish up his college physics degree. “I still have a year left. I’ll eventually,” and then he paused, “maybe, but hoping that I never have to go back to school. I don’t feel like hopping back into Quantum Mechanics or anything like that.” Now let’s get to the fun stuff. Let’s talk about Ryan Jeffers’ bat, the aspect of his game that he is known for. What a first impression he made in his professional debut. He began by playing 28 games in Elizabethton. He hit an impressive .422/.543/.578 (1.121) with seven doubles and three homers. “I wasn’t surprised. I think I surprised a lot of people. I think a lot of people believed in my bat, but I don’t think a lot of people expected what I did do. I knew that was what was going to come. I knew that’s how I played. But I think it did surprise people... I mean, you’re going to surprise a lot of people when you hit .422 in rookie ball. That’s kind of who I am.” He finished the season with 36 games for Cedar Rapids. Things weren’t quite as easy for him, but he still more than held his own. He hit .288/.361/.446 (.807) with 10 doubles and four homers. It was a strong debut. Jeffers showed some power, got on base, and generally put the ball in play. So what kind of hitter is Jeffers? In his own words, “I think I’m a very well-rounded hitter with a lot of power. That’s how I would describe it. I can hit for power. I can hit for average, like I’ve shown, but I also take pride in trying to walk more than I strike out. I don’t strike out a lot normally at all. I put the ball in play. A higher average, but also a lot of power that I can utilize and get to a lot in games.” While Jeffers says that he isn’t necessarily one to set a lot of goals for himself, it does enjoy taking that analytic approach to his game and to his numbers. “I’m playing to do the best I can do. I can take information very well. So I can look at numbers and say if I want to get to this point, I need to do a little better here or a little over there. People say that you shouldn’t look at your stats, but stats tell you how you’re doing. I like to look at my stats. If I’m struggling a little bit, it’s going to show up in your stats. Some let stats affect them the wrong way.” Jeffers' season ended following the Kernels run in the Midwest League playoffs. He headed back home to Wilmington, but his stay wasn’t very long. Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the east coast and heading straight for Wilmington. “I had just gotten back from the season the day before. We evacuated the day after I got home. I didn’t even unpack, just left the suitcases in the car and headed out.” Fortunately Wilmington is doing well and Jeffers quickly returned. With no school classes to worry about, Jeffers still returned to school to keep on working to better himself. “We have a really good facility down at UNC-W where I’ve been working out with a bunch of other pro guys. We have the weight room and the batting cages to get in and really get a good workout in. From there it was nutrition-focused and focus on stuff that is going to make me a better baseball player and not have to focus on anything outside of baseball.” He made the trek down to Ft. Myers a couple of time to participate in camps with teammates, trainers and instructors. “I went to pretty much every strength camp which is working out with Ian (Kadish), the strength coach. We worked on moving the body right. They watched how we do it, and then send home with a work out. Then Instructs and catching camp were both after the season.” When he’s not doing baseball activities, Jeffers enjoys what Wilmington has to offer. “I really am down with the beach. Wilmington is on the beach. We love just to be down there. Just spend as much time as we can, me and my fiance, just touring around and hanging out really.” You can call it what you want. A chip on his shoulder. A little extra fuel for the fire. Extra motivation. Ryan Jeffers has the attitude and the drive to prove a lot of people wrong. His bat may carry him, but he believes he can be a strong defensive backstop too. Jeffers will soon be starting his first full season as a professional baseball player. Most likely he will begin with some more time in Cedar Rapids, but he could move up to the Miracle in Ft. Myers quickly. For Jeffers, he will just keep working hard to prove people wrong on his way to the big leagues. Click here to view the article
  11. Ryan Jeffers grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he became a star on the baseball team at Sanderson High School. He played on Perfect Game and Impact teams nationally as well as Dirtbags, a developmental team that has many MLB alumni including Chris Archer, Wil Myers and Kyle and Corey Seager. Jeffers competed on the organization’s top team. For college, he made the two-hour drive south from Raleigh to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. “I had a couple of options. Wilmington wasn’t the highest offer, but I felt the best going there. That was going to give me the best place to develop, and best coaching staff, and I really felt comfortable there. So I made the decision to go there. I didn’t play a ton as a freshman, but I worked really hard and earned my spot, earned my starting job.” As a freshman, he played in just 13 games, but he hit .348 (8-for-23) with three doubles and a homer. After that, Jeffers became a starter and made the most of it. As a sophomore, he played in 53 games and hit .328/.422/.604 (1.026) with 19 doubles and 10 triples. He was even better as a junior in 2018. In 62 games, he hit .315/.460/.635 (1.095) with 22 doubles and 16 home runs. As he got more playing time, the scouts certainly took notice. Jeffers noted, “Sophomore year, we had a lot of really good players, so there were a lot of scouts there all the time. So they got to see me play a little bit then. Then my junior year, it just kind of started exploding on me. A lot of people were talking, and I had a lot of conversations.” Last June, the Twins surprised a lot of people, a lot of “experts” when they made him their second-round pick. His selection was aired on MLB Network and their panel talked about how he wasn’t even in their Top 200 draft prospects. They said that he was definitely considered a bat-first catcher, that he could hit, but there were a lot of questions about his defense behind the plate. Jeffers watched. He heard his name called and all of his question marks put out on national TV. His response to that discussion should please Twins fans. “It’s kind of fun. It’s kind of my story, coming through high school. I actually walked on at UNC-W. So I’ve kind of always earned my spot. Coming into the draft, being under the radar there too, and it’s just been the story of my career.” But as we know, it just takes one team to take a chance. Jeffers continued, “The Twins believed in me. The Twins loved me. But still there’s a lot of doubters out there, doubt if I can still catch, doubt if I can do that. All I can say is just watch me. Just watch me. I bet you I’ll prove you wrong.” Jeffers has always been a catcher. “I grew up as a catcher. When I got to high school, I just kept catching.“ He was a catcher at Wilmington. He spent a little time in left field to keep his bat in the lineup, but to keep his legs fresh behind the plate. He’s heard the questions about his defense time and again. It has become a source of motivation. “It’s happened to me for so long. It adds a little fuel to the fire, but it’s always been my goal to be the best catcher that I can be. Obviously the offense is going to be there, but my goal is to be the best catcher I can be, and that’s something I plan to do for the rest of my career. I plan on catching here at Target Field one day, hopefully in the near future.” While it’s great to have that motivation, Jeffers knows that it is an area where he has room to improve. He touted the value of having minor league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson present, particularly throughout the offseason, to work with him on the technical aspects of the position. “That’s always been the part of my game that I need to work on the most. Yeah, I work on offense, but it’s something that's been a lot more natural to me. Defensively, I think I’m such a quick learner and have the aptitude to learn so fast. In college, I never had a catching coach. I was pretty much self-taught, and I still had numbers that were comparable with some of the better receivers in the nation. When I got to pro ball, I worked with Tanner (Swanson), I just soaked in so much knowledge and I’ve been feeling better than ever behind the plate. Worked hard this offseason getting ready for the year behind the plate.” In fact, reports from a variety of sources indicate that his defense impressed people in and around the organization, both by the eye test and through some statistics, specifically his pitch framing. Jeffers adds, “Receiving is the most important aspect of the catcher’s job, by far. Tanner always tells us, ‘Think of how many times you receive the ball versus how many times you throw the ball per game.’ It’s like 200 to maybe one or two.That’s the part where you, as a catcher, can make your biggest impact on the game. That’s what I’ve really taken into the offseason to focus on.” Another part of the fun of catching is trying to think with and even out-think the opposing batters. It is an aspect of the game that Jeffers really enjoys. “I was a physics major at school. I’m very scientific, analytic, a really good thinker. So I love that kind of strategic part of catching, calling the game, reading the hitters, reading the pitcher, reading emotions. I love that part.” As a side note, I asked Jeffers if he plans to return to college to finish up his college physics degree. “I still have a year left. I’ll eventually,” and then he paused, “maybe, but hoping that I never have to go back to school. I don’t feel like hopping back into Quantum Mechanics or anything like that.” Now let’s get to the fun stuff. Let’s talk about Ryan Jeffers’ bat, the aspect of his game that he is known for. What a first impression he made in his professional debut. He began by playing 28 games in Elizabethton. He hit an impressive .422/.543/.578 (1.121) with seven doubles and three homers. “I wasn’t surprised. I think I surprised a lot of people. I think a lot of people believed in my bat, but I don’t think a lot of people expected what I did do. I knew that was what was going to come. I knew that’s how I played. But I think it did surprise people... I mean, you’re going to surprise a lot of people when you hit .422 in rookie ball. That’s kind of who I am.” He finished the season with 36 games for Cedar Rapids. Things weren’t quite as easy for him, but he still more than held his own. He hit .288/.361/.446 (.807) with 10 doubles and four homers. It was a strong debut. Jeffers showed some power, got on base, and generally put the ball in play. So what kind of hitter is Jeffers? In his own words, “I think I’m a very well-rounded hitter with a lot of power. That’s how I would describe it. I can hit for power. I can hit for average, like I’ve shown, but I also take pride in trying to walk more than I strike out. I don’t strike out a lot normally at all. I put the ball in play. A higher average, but also a lot of power that I can utilize and get to a lot in games.” While Jeffers says that he isn’t necessarily one to set a lot of goals for himself, it does enjoy taking that analytic approach to his game and to his numbers. “I’m playing to do the best I can do. I can take information very well. So I can look at numbers and say if I want to get to this point, I need to do a little better here or a little over there. People say that you shouldn’t look at your stats, but stats tell you how you’re doing. I like to look at my stats. If I’m struggling a little bit, it’s going to show up in your stats. Some let stats affect them the wrong way.” Jeffers' season ended following the Kernels run in the Midwest League playoffs. He headed back home to Wilmington, but his stay wasn’t very long. Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the east coast and heading straight for Wilmington. “I had just gotten back from the season the day before. We evacuated the day after I got home. I didn’t even unpack, just left the suitcases in the car and headed out.” Fortunately Wilmington is doing well and Jeffers quickly returned. With no school classes to worry about, Jeffers still returned to school to keep on working to better himself. “We have a really good facility down at UNC-W where I’ve been working out with a bunch of other pro guys. We have the weight room and the batting cages to get in and really get a good workout in. From there it was nutrition-focused and focus on stuff that is going to make me a better baseball player and not have to focus on anything outside of baseball.” He made the trek down to Ft. Myers a couple of time to participate in camps with teammates, trainers and instructors. “I went to pretty much every strength camp which is working out with Ian (Kadish), the strength coach. We worked on moving the body right. They watched how we do it, and then send home with a work out. Then Instructs and catching camp were both after the season.” When he’s not doing baseball activities, Jeffers enjoys what Wilmington has to offer. “I really am down with the beach. Wilmington is on the beach. We love just to be down there. Just spend as much time as we can, me and my fiance, just touring around and hanging out really.” You can call it what you want. A chip on his shoulder. A little extra fuel for the fire. Extra motivation. Ryan Jeffers has the attitude and the drive to prove a lot of people wrong. His bat may carry him, but he believes he can be a strong defensive backstop too. Jeffers will soon be starting his first full season as a professional baseball player. Most likely he will begin with some more time in Cedar Rapids, but he could move up to the Miracle in Ft. Myers quickly. For Jeffers, he will just keep working hard to prove people wrong on his way to the big leagues.
  12. The Athletic (subscription required and very much endorsed) just published an outstanding article from Dan Hayes, who got some additional help from Eno Sarris. Here's the link. It's an incredibly deep piece with insights from Mitch Garver, Ben Rortvedt, Jason Castro, minor league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson that focuses on the skill of receiving and how the Twins are working to improve this area they've long trailed behind other teams.
  13. What a difference a year makes. A year ago, Ben Rortvedt was getting his first taste of full-season minor league baseball after having been drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2016 amateur draft by the Minnesota Twins. Things did not go well for the young catcher from Verona, Wisconsin. Through April, he was hitting only .096 with an OPS of just .229. This spring, it was obviously important for the young catcher to get off on the right foot in 2018 and put that 2017 start well behind him.Just 19 years old when he opened his first year of full-season minor league ball last season, Rortvedt admits he wasn’t used to dealing with the sorts of struggles he encountered a year ago. “Yeah, last year did not go my way at all and I truly wasn’t used to that,” he recalled. “Since I started slow, I didn’t really know how to handle that. It was kind of rough for the first month or so. I tried to dig out of it and it was really kind of hard for me. I tried to change a lot of things.” While he recovered over the second half of the season to hit right at .280 over the course of June, July and August, he decided this past offseason to go back to what he was familiar with, an approach he described as, “just simplifying everything and seeing the ball. That’s what I did going into spring training.” Whatever he did, it seems to be working. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Rortvedt0413d-600x400.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo : SD Buhr) Despite a 1-for-11 stretch at the plate in his last three games going into Tuesday night, Rortvedt is still hitting .321 with an OPS of .773. He can feel the difference, too. “I feel really good,” he said. “I’m really comfortable with the league. I know what it’s about. I’ve been seeing the ball well and finding the barrel. “ His manager, Toby Gardenhire, can see the difference, too. “There’s a reason they put guys in the minor leagues and they have them develop and they work them up through the system,” Gardnehire said. “It’s amazing what a year in a place like this will do. He comes back and he’s a totally different guy. He’s more confident now. He knows what to expect. He knows how to go about his day-to-day business a lot better than he did last year. He’s putting in the work and he’s having results.” Gardenhire has noticed more than just greater experience, though. He’s seeing a level of self-confidence in Rortvedt that wasn’t there a year ago. “It’s a confidence thing. If you go up to the plate and you don’t know what to expect from yourself and you’re just trying to make contact and you’re hoping that you do well, that doesn’t usually go very well,” the manager pointed out. “But when you’re going up there and you have a plan because you’ve been there and done it a little bit, then it changes your whole mentality and that’s what Ben’s doing right now. “He’s got kind of a chip on his shoulder where he wants to go up there and be the guy. Last year, he kind of questioned himself a little bit, but this year I don’t see a whole lot of questioning himself in him.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Rortvedt0413b-600x400.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr) Hitting is a good thing, of course, especially for a guy drafted as high as Rortvedt was. But, as a catcher, what he does behind the plate is equally important, if not more so. That’s an area where he’s making some adjustments to his game, as well. For the first time since he joined the organization, the Twins have hired a catching coordinator to work with their minor league backstops. Tanner Swanson joined the organization in that capacity and Rortvedt couldn’t be happier about it. “It was kind of frustrating not having someone to talk to about catching,” Rortvedt said, adding that Swanson’s arrival has changed that. “He’s very hands on, a very approachable guy.” It has meant, however, that Rortvedt is working on changing the way he goes about his business behind the plate. “The new big thing is receiving metrics, working a lot on receiving the ball the right way. It’s different from how I grew up catching. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Rortvedt2-400x600.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr) “I grew up with more of an old style of catching, which was catch the ball where it is, try to make it look the best you can, be strong with the baseball. We’re moving more towards moving the baseball, trying to create strikes. So I’m kind of redefining myself behind the plate, trying to find a balance where I can still have my own flavor, but I can also move the baseball a little bit and create more strikes.” It hasn’t necessarily been an easy adjustment to make all the time for Rortvedt. “I grew up catching in seventh or eighth grade and I got really good at being strong with the baseball, so I’ve been fine tuning my game,” he explained. “It was almost frustrating in the beginning, but I think I’m starting to get more the hang of it. It’s a work in progress, just something to add to my game.” Rortvedt’s workmanlike approach to the game is reflected in a simple goal for this year. “I’m just out here to improve myself and win games,” he said. “If you win games, you’re probably doing well and contributing to the team.” This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com. Click here to view the article
  14. Just 19 years old when he opened his first year of full-season minor league ball last season, Rortvedt admits he wasn’t used to dealing with the sorts of struggles he encountered a year ago. “Yeah, last year did not go my way at all and I truly wasn’t used to that,” he recalled. “Since I started slow, I didn’t really know how to handle that. It was kind of rough for the first month or so. I tried to dig out of it and it was really kind of hard for me. I tried to change a lot of things.” While he recovered over the second half of the season to hit right at .280 over the course of June, July and August, he decided this past offseason to go back to what he was familiar with, an approach he described as, “just simplifying everything and seeing the ball. That’s what I did going into spring training.” Whatever he did, it seems to be working. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Rortvedt0413d-600x400.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo : SD Buhr) Despite a 1-for-11 stretch at the plate in his last three games going into Tuesday night, Rortvedt is still hitting .321 with an OPS of .773. He can feel the difference, too. “I feel really good,” he said. “I’m really comfortable with the league. I know what it’s about. I’ve been seeing the ball well and finding the barrel. “ His manager, Toby Gardenhire, can see the difference, too. “There’s a reason they put guys in the minor leagues and they have them develop and they work them up through the system,” Gardnehire said. “It’s amazing what a year in a place like this will do. He comes back and he’s a totally different guy. He’s more confident now. He knows what to expect. He knows how to go about his day-to-day business a lot better than he did last year. He’s putting in the work and he’s having results.” Gardenhire has noticed more than just greater experience, though. He’s seeing a level of self-confidence in Rortvedt that wasn’t there a year ago. “It’s a confidence thing. If you go up to the plate and you don’t know what to expect from yourself and you’re just trying to make contact and you’re hoping that you do well, that doesn’t usually go very well,” the manager pointed out. “But when you’re going up there and you have a plan because you’ve been there and done it a little bit, then it changes your whole mentality and that’s what Ben’s doing right now. “He’s got kind of a chip on his shoulder where he wants to go up there and be the guy. Last year, he kind of questioned himself a little bit, but this year I don’t see a whole lot of questioning himself in him.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Rortvedt0413b-600x400.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr) Hitting is a good thing, of course, especially for a guy drafted as high as Rortvedt was. But, as a catcher, what he does behind the plate is equally important, if not more so. That’s an area where he’s making some adjustments to his game, as well. For the first time since he joined the organization, the Twins have hired a catching coordinator to work with their minor league backstops. Tanner Swanson joined the organization in that capacity and Rortvedt couldn’t be happier about it. “It was kind of frustrating not having someone to talk to about catching,” Rortvedt said, adding that Swanson’s arrival has changed that. “He’s very hands on, a very approachable guy.” It has meant, however, that Rortvedt is working on changing the way he goes about his business behind the plate. “The new big thing is receiving metrics, working a lot on receiving the ball the right way. It’s different from how I grew up catching. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Rortvedt2-400x600.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr) “I grew up with more of an old style of catching, which was catch the ball where it is, try to make it look the best you can, be strong with the baseball. We’re moving more towards moving the baseball, trying to create strikes. So I’m kind of redefining myself behind the plate, trying to find a balance where I can still have my own flavor, but I can also move the baseball a little bit and create more strikes.” It hasn’t necessarily been an easy adjustment to make all the time for Rortvedt. “I grew up catching in seventh or eighth grade and I got really good at being strong with the baseball, so I’ve been fine tuning my game,” he explained. “It was almost frustrating in the beginning, but I think I’m starting to get more the hang of it. It’s a work in progress, just something to add to my game.” Rortvedt’s workmanlike approach to the game is reflected in a simple goal for this year. “I’m just out here to improve myself and win games,” he said. “If you win games, you’re probably doing well and contributing to the team.” This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com.
  15. Here are some news and notes from the Twins spring training facilities from Saturday, and also from Sunday morning. Notebook In the past, the two minor league games were played side-by-side on the minor league side of the facilities. A person could watch both games by just walking or standing with his head on a swivel. That changed this year. One of the two games is played over on Bill Smith Field, where the Gulf Coast League Twins play their games. The reason is that field has the Trackman system and the Twins are able to get information on more players even this early in spring. On the other field, the Ft. Myers roster played, and its lineup is pretty impressive.Akil Baddoo CF Royce Lewis SS Alex Kirilloff RF Ben Rodriguez 1B Jose Miranda 2B Andrew Bechtold 3B David Banuelos C Trey Cabbage LF Andy Cosgrove DH Taylor Grzelakowski (“Gelly”) DH/C [*]Most of that roster will start the season in Cedar Rapids. That’s a potentially potent lineup, and it doesn’t even include Wander Javier. On Saturday, Wander Javier participated in running and fielding and infield drills, but he has not yet been hitting. I chatted with Twins farm director Jeremy Zoll this morning, and he said that Javier will be hitting within a few days. His left shoulder flared up a couple of days ago. It’s an injury he missed a little time with last year, so they’re limiting him somewhat. The minor league season starts a week after the major league season starts, so there is time to be patient and he should be able to start the season with the Kernels. [*]Right-handed pitcher Bailey Ober hyper-extended his knee in a fielding drill on Saturday, though it’s not believed to be serious at all. He should be back on a mound soon. [*]There was a really scary moment during the minor league games on Saturday. The Twins new catching coordinator, Tanner Swanson, was going back and forth between the two fields and the two games. Late in the afternoon, he was sitting in the Miracle dugout, surrounded on both sides of the bench by a couple of catchers. A Rays batter lined a ball right through the gap in the Twins dugout. Players bailed, but the ball struck Swanson right on the side of the head. He got up and walked a few feet and sat down and trainers talked to him. Minutes later, he walked out of the dugout and to the minor league clubhouse. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution. Jeremy Zoll told me this morning that Swanson was cleared and is just fine. That’s a great note. [*]While watching early-morning practice on the back fields, I ran into Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and we had a nice chat for ten minutes or so. He’s certainly excited about the talent that can be found throughout the system and insists they want to continue to add to it. We also briefly discussed some of the changes on the minor league side. Nick tweeted a photo earlier in the week showing the new Rapsodo machines that are sometimes in the bullpen. You can also see that they have dummies/cutouts of batters in the bullpen for when pitchers are working. A string hangs from the elbow of the cutout. Falvey verified that the string was to encourage pitchers to work inside. Falvey credited Jim Pohlad for giving them many new technological devices for the minor leagues. [*]One thing you’ll notice if you are down by the minor league fields is that it is louder. During their practices, music blasts from the overhead speakers. Falvey and Zoll said that it should be fun for these guys to come to work and do their jobs. Music obviously can play a big part in that. It’s another advance that is a positive for the conditions for the players. It was just last spring that minor leaguers were able to grow facial hair. [*]A lot of the front office made their way down to the minor league fields on Saturday since the big league club was on the road. I also caught up with Brad Steil. He had been the Twins minor league director for the past five seasons. He received a promotion to Director of Pro Scouting. He noted that he and Jeremy Zoll have had a lot of chats throughout the offseason on players and other minor league topics. In his new role, he will help compile and organize the reports and data that the 12-14 pro scouts provide. On trades of free agents, he will be asked for his input on players and provide a response based on the data that they now have. He is excited about the new challenge. [*]On my first day in Ft. Myers (Saturday), I brought out the camera (as I have in past years). I ended up taking 851 pictures. After clearing out unusable photos, I still had over 650 pictures to work with. I will continue to take pictures throughout the next week - probably not to that quantity, however. If you aren’t already, I’d encourage you to follow Twins Daily on Twitter, where I posted lots of them late last night and early on Sunday morning. I’ll also be posting many of them on the Twins Daily Facebook page, so be sure to Like that page. Until then, here is a small sampling of content from yesterday: https://twitter.com/twinsdaily/status/975328810831941633 https://twitter.com/twinsdaily/status/975324952894279680 https://twitter.com/twinsdaily/status/975228030489694213 https://twitter.com/skipper_rams/status/975143743711039493 https://twitter.com/twinsdaily/status/975077604305842178 Please feel free to ask questions in the Comments below, and if there are questions you would like me ask certain players, leave them here as well.
  16. FT. MYERS – As you are preparing to watch the Minnesota Twins take on the Philadelphia Phillies from Hammond Stadium on Fox Sports North today, here are some minor league notes from my first day in Ft. Myers. After arriving in Ft. Myers late on Friday night (or early Saturday morning), it was nice to be able to spend a full day at the Twins minor league facilities. They practiced for a couple of hours before playing games. Today, here is a quick download of minor league notes. The Rochester and Chattanooga rosters traveled to Port Charlotte to take on the AAA and AA affiliates of the Rays. At the Twins facilities, the Ft. Myers and Cedar Rapids faced off against the High-A and Low-A rosters of the Rays. Here are my observations and some conversations with people around.Here are some news and notes from the Twins spring training facilities from Saturday, and also from Sunday morning. Notebook In the past, the two minor league games were played side-by-side on the minor league side of the facilities. A person could watch both games by just walking or standing with his head on a swivel. That changed this year. One of the two games is played over on Bill Smith Field, where the Gulf Coast League Twins play their games. The reason is that field has the Trackman system and the Twins are able to get information on more players even this early in spring.On the other field, the Ft. Myers roster played, and its lineup is pretty impressive.Akil Baddoo CFRoyce Lewis SSAlex Kirilloff RFBen Rodriguez 1BJose Miranda 2BAndrew Bechtold 3BDavid Banuelos CTrey Cabbage LFAndy Cosgrove DHTaylor Grzelakowski (“Gelly”) DH/CMost of that roster will start the season in Cedar Rapids. That’s a potentially potent lineup, and it doesn’t even include Wander Javier. On Saturday, Wander Javier participated in running and fielding and infield drills, but he has not yet been hitting. I chatted with Twins farm director Jeremy Zoll this morning, and he said that Javier will be hitting within a few days. His left shoulder flared up a couple of days ago. It’s an injury he missed a little time with last year, so they’re limiting him somewhat. The minor league season starts a week after the major league season starts, so there is time to be patient and he should be able to start the season with the Kernels.Right-handed pitcher Bailey Ober hyper-extended his knee in a fielding drill on Saturday, though it’s not believed to be serious at all. He should be back on a mound soon.There was a really scary moment during the minor league games on Saturday. The Twins new catching coordinator, Tanner Swanson, was going back and forth between the two fields and the two games. Late in the afternoon, he was sitting in the Miracle dugout, surrounded on both sides of the bench by a couple of catchers. A Rays batter lined a ball right through the gap in the Twins dugout. Players bailed, but the ball struck Swanson right on the side of the head. He got up and walked a few feet and sat down and trainers talked to him. Minutes later, he walked out of the dugout and to the minor league clubhouse. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution. Jeremy Zoll told me this morning that Swanson was cleared and is just fine. That’s a great note.While watching early-morning practice on the back fields, I ran into Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and we had a nice chat for ten minutes or so. He’s certainly excited about the talent that can be found throughout the system and insists they want to continue to add to it. We also briefly discussed some of the changes on the minor league side. Nick tweeted a photo earlier in the week showing the new Rapsodo machines that are sometimes in the bullpen. You can also see that they have dummies/cutouts of batters in the bullpen for when pitchers are working. A string hangs from the elbow of the cutout. Falvey verified that the string was to encourage pitchers to work inside. Falvey credited Jim Pohlad for giving them many new technological devices for the minor leagues.One thing you’ll notice if you are down by the minor league fields is that it is louder. During their practices, music blasts from the overhead speakers. Falvey and Zoll said that it should be fun for these guys to come to work and do their jobs. Music obviously can play a big part in that. It’s another advance that is a positive for the conditions for the players. It was just last spring that minor leaguers were able to grow facial hair.A lot of the front office made their way down to the minor league fields on Saturday since the big league club was on the road. I also caught up with Brad Steil. He had been the Twins minor league director for the past five seasons. He received a promotion to Director of Pro Scouting. He noted that he and Jeremy Zoll have had a lot of chats throughout the offseason on players and other minor league topics. In his new role, he will help compile and organize the reports and data that the 12-14 pro scouts provide. On trades of free agents, he will be asked for his input on players and provide a response based on the data that they now have. He is excited about the new challenge.On my first day in Ft. Myers (Saturday), I brought out the camera (as I have in past years). I ended up taking 851 pictures. After clearing out unusable photos, I still had over 650 pictures to work with. I will continue to take pictures throughout the next week - probably not to that quantity, however. If you aren’t already, I’d encourage you to follow Twins Daily on Twitter, where I posted lots of them late last night and early on Sunday morning. I’ll also be posting many of them on the Twins Daily Facebook page, so be sure to Like that page. Until then, here is a small sampling of content from yesterday: Please feel free to ask questions in the Comments below, and if there are questions you would like me ask certain players, leave them here as well. Click here to view the article
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