The Minnesota Twins have a good mix of young players and veterans on their team, and they have been locking down their future positions with 20-somethings like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Luis Arraez and Jorge Polanco. However, the one position that has seen fluctuation over the last half-decade is catcher.
From 2004-13 Minnesota had one of the best catchers in the league: Joe Mauer. But when he made his move to first base full time in 2014, the next Twins starting catcher was Kurt Suzuki, who was not the same as the future Hall of Famer. But, like Mauer, Suzuki was never paired with catchers who had seen much action in their MLB careers — players like Josmil Pinto and Juan Centeno were not household names. This was all until one prospect made his way onto the roster when Suzuki after 2016 departed.
Garver made his major league debut during the 2017 season, playing in 23 games, the third-lowest of all Twins catchers that year. Since then he has not seen a drop below 90 games and has risen his way into the Twins No. 1 option behind the plate.
He rose to his spot partly due to his hitting performances in his first two full seasons. In the 2018 and 2019 season, his slash line average was .272/.350/.522 and he hit a total of 38 home runs and collected 112 RBIs.
Last season boosted his averages, of course. He had a breakout year, even though he did not hit well his first season in 23 games, but if anything it only shows that the more plate appearances he has the better the results.
When he paired 31 home runs, 67 RBIs and a new approach behind the plate in 2019, it’s hard to deny Garver the full-time spot as the Twins catcher. But Garver found himself on the IL again, and Ryan Jeffers is getting his chance to prove himself as either the back-up to Garver or the replacement for him. Either way, the Twins could have a tandem behind the plate for years to come.
Jeffers, 23, was drafted out of University of North Carolina-Wilmington and made his major league debut this season with the Twins. He has received a lot of hype for his abilities at the plate both defensively and offensively.
In three years at UNC Wilmington, Jeffers hit .323./445/.620 in 542 plate appearances. This season Jeffers has been called to start games after Garver was put on the IL with a low-grade right intercostal strain. With the injury to Garver, Jeffers is being given the chance to show why he should be the next go-to catcher for the Twins.
So far this season Jeffers has seen action in nine games and 21 plate appearances where he has collected a slash line of .316/.381/.316. Jeffers has not had any signature moments in the little time he has seen this season, but he has offered consistency. While he has not hit like some of the power hitters in the league, he has strung together some impressive plate appearances for a rookie.
With his confidence behind the plate and his insane ability to catch any pitcher the Twins have used, Jeffers is turning heads. Even if he is not the power hitter that Garver showed he could be last season, he might steal playing time from him with his defensive prowess alone.
Garver should be the Twins No. 1 option at catcher for the next few years, realistically speaking.
Since 2017 he has shown that he can be productive on both sides of the plate when he is healthy. He is only 29-years-old and has had more time to work with MLB coaches and veteran catchers than Jeffers has. If he can repeat his numbers from the 2018 or 2019 season in the years to come it will be his position to lose.
Conversely, Jeffers could come into the league ready to step up at a young age. He has shown that he has the stuff defensively in his little action so far. But, if he is able to perform as he did in college and the minors while continuing to become a power hitter, then there is no reason for him not to rival Garver for the No. 1 spot.
The most likely outcome could be that Jeffers takes four years to be an everyday player in the majors. This will allow Garver, who has already shown he can be dominant in this league, to play out his prime years as the Twins No. 1 catcher.