Minnesota Twins 2018 positional recap, part 1- Catchers
By Matt Smith
After an underwhelming season, let’s take a look at what went well and what went wrong at each position for the Minnesota Twins, starting with the catchers.
By now, we know the story of the 2018 Minnesota Twins season- Full of expectations, full of disappointments. In this new series, we’ll try to figure out exactly what went well, what went wrong, and what to expect in the future. We’ll do this position by position, starting today with the catchers.
The Twins used 6 different catchers this season (well, 7 if you include Joe Mauer catching 1 pitch in a beautiful tribute)- Jason Castro, Mitch Garver, Willians Astudillo, Bobby Wilson, Juan Graterol, and Chris Gimenez. We’ll focus mainly on the first three in that list as they are the ones that figure to have a role in 2019 and beyond. But first, let’s recap the season for our catchers-
Coming out of spring training, Jason Castro was unsurprisingly our starting catcher, with Mitch Garver drawing backup responsibilities. The pair figured to be the main combo of catchers for most all of the season, with Castro getting most of the starts and Garver continuing to gain experience and hopefully show signs at being the catcher of the future. That outlook changed entirely when Castro tore a meniscus in early May, ending his season just over a month into the year. The team turned to Garver and Bobby Wilson, who got fairly equal playing time for the next month or so. Neither did much of anything over that span- Garver slashed .200/.294/.253, while Wilson slashed .167/.208/.313. Then, however, Garver caught fire, and gave many reasons to be excited about him as a potential long term catcher.
Garver would go on to slash .298/.360/.466 over the rest of the season, becoming the Minnesota Twins’ everyday catcher, with Wilson understandably falling into the backup role. Wilson wouldn’t improve his numbers at all over the rest of the season, finishing with a .178 average before being traded to the Chicago Cubs for Chris Gimenez in late August. Here and there, Willians Astudillo made a few appearances. First for a few weeks in late June to mid July, then again in late August where he stayed in the MLB for the rest of the season after rosters expanded in September.
Interestingly, despite being known more as a catcher than a utility player, Astudillo found time at LF, CF, 3B, 2B, and even pitched an inning before getting any time at catcher. He eventually settled in as a catcher, though, with 16 of his final 20 appearances coming as a catcher. Many fans grew to love Astudillo, both for his performance (he finished the year with an impressive .355/.371/.516 slash line across 29 games, only striking out 3 times all year), and a few of his memorable moments-
Chris Gimenez was added to the mix in September, appearing in 13 games and starting in 9, where he hit a solid .276/.353/.517. Juan Graterol also made a handful of appearances in September, with not much to write home about. Graterol’s tenure with the Twins ended several days ago after being claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds.
The 2018 catcher situation turned out to be quite different than the Minnesota Twins anticipated. Castro was expected to once again handle the brunt of the duties, likely again providing solid defense and game calling while not contributing much offensively. But, he went down and Garver eventually stepped up and made a name for himself. Astudillo got a few opportunities and forced the Twins to consider him as a part of 2019 as well. Both Wilson and Graterol parted ways with the Twins, and Gimenez had a short reunion with his 2017 team to end the season.
It turned out to be a productive year for Twins catchers, both for 2018 and the future. Nobody wants to see a player get hurt and have to miss the majority of the season, but it may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the organization. Had Castro not gotten hurt, he likely would have continued to draw starts most days (not a terrible thing, but Castro’s offensive upside is quite limited), and Garver may not have been able to prove himself worthy of starting and show why we should be excited about him long term. While nothing notable came of Wilson, Graterol, or Gimenez this year, we were introduced to Astudillo, who made a compelling case for a role with the team in 2019 as well.