Ryan Jeffers Is Pulling Off An Incredible Balancing Act

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Jeffers went 13 games without a home run before he hit two in a 7-6 win over the Kansas City Royals on May 30, securing a series win over a surging division rival. Most catchers wouldn’t be concerned about a two-week home run drought, but Jeffers hasn’t hit like a typical catcher this year.

“It felt like it’s been forever,” said Jeffers after the Minnesota Twins took three of four from Kansas City at Target Field. “I’ve been feeling really good. I think my swing has been back. My approach has been back…. To get the results, it’s nice.”

Jeffers led off the New York Yankees series with a leadoff home run on May 14. He was hitting .292/.371/.617 entering the Yankees series. However, he hit .119/.229/.143 during his 13-game homerless streak, dropping his average to .247/.333/.506.

All hitters go through slumps, but Jeffers’ situation is unique. Catchers endure more wear and tear defensively because they are crouched the entire game and take foul tips off their bodies. The Twins have mitigated that while keeping Jeffers’ bat in the lineup by using him as a designated hitter. However, DHing can mess with a hitter’s psyche because they can’t contribute defensively in a game where they’re struggling at the plate.

Further complicating things is that hitters can cool off if they have too many off days. DHing helps Jeffers get repetitions at the plate, even if it can be challenging psychologically. Jeffers is balancing catching frequently enough to contribute defensively, especially while Christian Vázquez (.161/.179/.196) scuffles with the bat, while not burning out physically behind the plate or mentally as the DH.

Jeffers also uses two swings: a powerful one with more moving parts and a more compact, contact-oriented alternative. That gives him options depending on the situation, and he can use whichever works best at any given moment. However, it also means he’s maintaining two swings. Jeffers said the simpler swing helped him break out of the slump.

“It’s really just, with the two different swings, there’s stuff that, in both the toe-tap and the no-stride, if I’m doing X, Y, and Z good, then it kind of translates to the other swing,” said Jeffers. “So at the end of the day, I’ll always have the ability to simplify and go with just no stride and grind out at-bats a little bit more, but being able to pull up to the toe-tap in different situations, it feels good.”

Jeffers has meaningful defensive value as a catcher. However, the Twins use him as a DH because he often ignites an occasionally stagnant offense. Royce Lewis injured his quad on opening day, and Alex Kirilloff (.218/.283/.415), Edouard Julien (.207/.309/.367), and Kyle Farmer (.163/.274/.239) are having down years. Therefore, Jeffers has become a crucial part of Minnesota’s offense.

“He’s been as important as any member of our team,” said Rocco Baldelli. “He’s been very impactful. He has good at-bats, he’s hit the ball over the fence, [and] he’s been good in some key situations.”

Jeffers isn’t the only player driving Minnesota’s offense. Max Kepler (.271/.338/.459) and Carlos Correa (.259/.335/.442) are reliable hitters, and José Miranda (.280/.311/.469) and Willi Castro (.260/.335/.420) are contributing in a meaningful way. Lewis should also give the Twins an offensive boost upon his return.

Still, Jeffers has allowed the Twins to win games when other impact players are having down years.

“You need to find certain guys that you can put them in the three-hole, or in the two-hole, or right in the middle of the lineup somewhere, knowing you’re going to get some production,” Baldelli added.

“He’s been that guy for us. We’ve plugged him right on in and let him keep going. There’s always going to be little ups and downs. We know it, and he knows it. But he’s working. And even in some of these games where he’s probably grinding a little bit at the plate and trying to make some little adjustments or little moves with his swing, he’s still on the ball on certain swings.”

Jeffers entered the Houston Astros series with the seventh-most doubles in the American League, ninth-most extra-base hits, and the seventh-highest slugging percentage. He’s also generating offense without swinging the bat. Jeffers is among the league leaders in getting hit by pitches.

“I think I just stand in there longer than most guys when a pitch comes inside. I don’t really get out of the way,” he said. “I’m like an armadillo. I just pull my arms in and take it.”

It’s not like he’s trying to get hit. “Guys throw too hard nowadays for me to want to get hit,” he added. “Baseball’s a weird sport. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I get hit by the pitch.”

It seems almost unfair that a player who’s physically taxed as a catcher, mentally stressed as a DH, and must generate offense for his team keeps getting beaned. But that’s life for Jeffers. He’s producing runs for the Twins in any way possible. In some ways, it’s fitting. Jeffers is always willing to take one for the team.

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