The Minnesota Twins have an enviable “problem” on their hands. The team has two catchers that could be a viable starter in 2018. So, how do they handle playing time?
The Minnesota Twins are looking toward 2018 with an eye on improving on their 2017 playoff team. There have been signings already to fortify the bullpen, and the team continues to make moves.
One area likely not to get a lot of major focus from the opening of the offseason was the catching position. The Twins have Jason Castro and Mitch Garver behind the plate, an enviable position, for sure, but it does create some question about how playing time will be doled out.
Castro vs. Garver, the smack down
The Twins signed Jason Castro away from the Houston Astros in the 2016-2017 offseason, so the team just enjoyed their first season with him behind the plate. Previously, he played 6 seasons with Houston, hitting .232/.309/.390 with 62 home runs with 2013 being his prime season, when he hit .276/.350/.485 with 18 home runs.
The Twins weren’t expecting that, but they were hoping for a bit more than he’d offered the Astros over the previous few seasons (84, 79, and 89 OPS+ his final three years with the Astros). Castro’s framing is elite behind the plate, so the closer he got to league average at the plate, the better for the team.
In 2017, Castro did do better, hitting .242/.333/.388 with 10 home runs and a 93 OPS+ at the plate. However, his framing metrics took a big dip, from three straight years at 10 or more framing runs added (per Baseball Prospectus’s metrics) to 3.3 in 2017.
Garver, on the other hand, has seen his framing metrics improve as he advanced through the minor leagues. Though he did not fare well in those same metrics in his time in the major leagues, he only caught ~300-350 pitches the whole season to build a database on at the major league level.
However, what Garver does have is a tremendous bat from the right side, something the Twins do need in the lineup. He was the Twins minor league player of the year in 2017 due to that bat.
Garver hit .291/.387/.541 with Rochester before being called up in August, and though he didn’t hit well in the majors (.196/.288/.348), he showed a solid eye and good power at the plate.
With Castro hitting from the left side and Garver from the right, the two could work their way into a solid platoon, but Garver did get time at first base in the last part of the season, so the Twins could use him at DH and first to get his bat some time in the lineup, though that would then require an additional catcher on the roster.
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Others who may don Twins tools of ignorance in 2018
While the Minnesota Twins have not signed another catcher to a major league deal at this point, they have been very active in the minor league market signing catchers this offseason.
One of the signees that will get fan attention this minor league season is Willians Astudillo, who has been with the Atlanta and Arizona systems the past two seasons. He may be a physically humorous guy, but Astudillo has some legit skills with the bat. His defense has been torn apart since Tommy John surgery, however, so it’s unlikely that he finds his way to the majors as a legit backup.
The Twins have also signed veteran minor league backstops in Bobby Wilson and Wynston Sawyer this offseason. Sawyer has played 8 professional seasons with the Orioles and Dodgers organizations, though he’s never played even in AAA, let alone the major leagues.
Wilson, however, is a long-time veteran who will turn 35 soon after the season starts. He spent 10 seasons in the Angels system before bouncing around the league since 2012 (Yankees, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Rays, Tigers, Dodgers).
While Wilson has hit .273/.333/.409 over 882 minor league games, he has only hit .214/.268/.319 over 324 major league seasons. He was elite in defensive metrics in 2017 in AAA, however, garnering 12.1 framing runs, and he’s consistently shown well defensively.
Regardless of if it’s Castro with Garver backing up, a veteran signee, or someone unforeseen, the Minnesota Twins will be relying on their catchers to set the tone for a pitching staff that will be either young or new to the team primarily, so the position will have great importance in 2018!