Minnesota Twins catching prospect Mitch Garver has overcome the odds at every step. Could he be the Twins next starting backstop?
The Minnesota Twins drafted Mitchell Lyn Garver out of the University of New Mexico in the 9th round of the 2013 draft. The Twins had already selected two other catchers, Stuart Turner and Brian Navarreto, before they selected Garver, so he was certainly behind the 8-ball for playing time right off the bat.
The Twins assigned Garver to Elizabethton in the advanced rookie Appalachian League, where he spent time between catcher and DH to get at bats, hitting .243/.313/.366 with 15 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 home runs with a 8.4% walk rate and a 13.8% strikeout rate.
Garver moved up one step to low-A Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League in 2014. He caught roughly half of the games he played on the season, hitting .298/.399/.481 with 29 doubles, 16 home runs, and 7 stolen bases with a 12.1% walk rate and a 12.9% strikeout rate.
Garver moved up to high-A Fort Myers in the Florida State League in 2015, and he struggled with driving the ball on the season, hitting .245/.356/.333 with 24 doubles, 4 home runs, and 5 stolen bases with a 13.3% walk rate and a 15.8% strikeout rate. He went to the Arizona Fall League after the 2015 season, hitting .317/.404/.512 over 12 games against the best prospects in the game.
In 2016, Garver opened his season in AA Chattanooga in the Southern League, and he finished with a month in AAA Rochester in the International League. He hit for a combined .270/.342/.422 with 30 doubles, 12 home runs, a 10.2% walk rate, and a 21.8% strikeout rate. He once again went to the Arizona Fall League, exhibiting power, as he swatted 4 home runs in 19 games, but running into BABIP issues and hitting .229 in the short time period.
After 2016, the Twins had to make a decision to protect Garver or his fellow draftees from the rule 5 draft. Garver was selected to add to the 40-man roster over Turner, who was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the Rule 5 draft.
Garver has spent the season in 2017 at AAA Rochester, playing roughly 3/4 of his games at catcher, but also getting time at first base, designated hitter, and even the outfield in order to get his bat into the lineup. He’s currently hitting .277/.382/.531 with 21 doubles, 15 home runs, a 14.4% walk rate, and a 23.2% strikeout rate.
Garver is listed at 6’1″ tall and 220 pounds. Those both seem accurate, though he is certainly an athletic 220 and has some rather long legs and arms for a catcher.
Contact (50) – While Garver has a long follow through on his swing, he gets to the zone quickly and pulls the bat through the zone quickly with quick wrists that allow him to adjust well to pitches when he has started his swing and finds himself facing a different pitch than he originally thought.
Power (50) – Garver has an exceptional amount of quick twitch strength in his swing. He is often focused more on table-setting and moving runners in his lineup position, so he’s been working the ball to the opposite field or up the middle to move along a runner in my viewings, but the power is obvious, able to flick a ball over 370 feet to right field on a breaking pitch.
If Garver were to focus his swing at pulling the ball, he could end up adding more strikeouts to his tally, but he very well could end up being a guy who hits 20+ home runs at his best.
Eye (55) – This is the closest to a pure 60 that Garver has on his profile. He has plus zone recognition, but I did note that he seemed to struggle some with recognizing pitches from certain arm slots especially, which is the only reason I’m bumping this down. Working from the #2 spot in the lineup has caused him to expand his zone a bit this year in an effort to move the runner a few times rather than be more patient and force the pitcher to approach him in lower spots in the order where he’d been in previous years that I could see on video.
Speed (40) – While Garver is a good-enough athlete, he’s not by any means a burner. He’s a smart base runner and does use the speed he does have well, which would lead me to think he’ll be a guy who “sneaks” in 5-7 stolen bases per season when he catches the opposing catcher napping.
Defense (55) – Garver has worked hard at his craft behind the plate. Word I got from someone in the Arizona Fall League was that no catcher in the 2016 AFL made more defensive progress in the time there than Garver, who was considered incredibly coachable and soaked up any advice he could get.
Garver’s long legs do present some challenge for him in his lateral movement, but he’s worked hard to be a very quality framer. While his rating has been poor this season per Baseball Prospectus’ metric, he’s rated very well in the past and nothing visually seems off in my viewings from his past games to this season’s game.
Arm (55) – Garver does not have a plus arm in strength, but he has an above-average arm that has definite plus accuracy. He is able to gun down runners at a very good rate due to that accuracy and hard work in his footwork behind the plate.
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MLB Player Comp
This may dip back beyond the memory bank for many fans, but the moment I watched Garver swing, I was reminded of a guy I loved as a young fan. Enjoying guys who had unique stories or baseball cards, I remember Mike Stanley having one particular very cool card in full catcher’s gear with the mask half up on his head.
Stanley was a backup for a number of years in the major leagues before finally breaking through with his first starting job in 1993 as a 30 year-old man. He retired after 2000 at age 37, having had 4 20-homer seasons in his career, posting a career line of .270/.370/.458 with 187 career home runs.
Stanley was a quality backstop without elite defensive ability or elite offensive ability, but enough work at both ends that he was an All-Star in 1995, received MVP votes and won a Silver Slugger in 1993, and led the league in fielding percentage by a catcher in that same 1993 season.
While I would imagine Twins fans hope to see Garver before he hits 30, it would not surprise me if he has a 5-7 year run like Stanley did where he was a quality starter for a first-division team, providing excellent offense and good-enough defense.
The Twins are likely to leave Garver in Rochester unless he’s getting a full complement of plate appearances at the major league level, so that would require the move of Jason Castro or the move of Robbie Grossman from DH to create space. Castro is signed through 2019 at $8M per season, but he could end up an expensive defensive-focused partner with Garver as Garver takes over the position in 2018 or 2019.