Unfortunately, Minnesota Twins fans were not able to fully experience just how valuable a good offensive catcher can be, due to the fact that the rest of the lineup under-performed for the majority of the season. The team hasn’t gotten much offensive production out of the catcher slot for the past few seasons, relying on the less than elite offensive outputs of Castro, Gimenez, and Kurt Suzuki for the past few seasons. Now, these guys certainly were worthwhile players due to their defense, clubhouse leadership, and in Suzuki’s case, 1 solid season of offense, but it’s not much of a stretch to say the Twins really haven’t had much offense from catchers since the Joe Mauer days.
Hence, Garver’s final line of .268/.335/.414 with 7 home runs and 45 RBI in 102 games is worth getting excited about. That line looks even better if you cut out some of his early season struggles and times where he was adjusting to more playing time after Castro’s injury- Over his final 70 games, Garver’s slash line sits at .293/.357/.454. Arguably his best game of the year came on September 28th, when he showcased his improvement this season in a 4 for 5 outing against the White Sox with 6 RBIs.
It’s also worth discussing Willians Astudillo as part of the Twins future. I’m a bit baffled at how exactly he does it, but the guy flat out hit this year. Of his 23 starts, there were only 5 in which he did not record a hit. He hardly ever walked (just 2 on the season), but he hardly ever struck out either (just 3). It’s hard to argue with a .355/.371/.516 slash line, plus 3 homers and 21 RBI in 29 games. It’d be one thing if Astudillo was purely a catcher, as Castro figures to be back next season for the final year in his contract, and Garver is all but a lock to make the active roster at this point, but Astudillo showed he can play just about anywhere on the diamond this year. He only got six games at 3B, two at 2B, and one in the outfield, but that sort of flexibility could give the Twins reason to include him on their roster even with Castro and Garver next year.
As for Castro, he’ll likely be back in the mix next year for one more season before his contract expires and the Minnesota Twins likely part ways with him. He’s making $8 million next year, so it’s unlikely that the Twins find any takers in trade for him, which would let the team roll with Garver and Astudillo. In fact, he could be a good person to hang onto, given that his strength has always been defense and game calling, which is an area that Garver could still use some improvement in. It could make sense to pair Castro and Garver next season, perhaps letting Garver take over the starting role and continue to develop his game, while Castro helps mentor him before becoming a free agent.
If that’s the case, that may leave Astudillo on the outside looking in. He certainly proved that he at least deserves to be looked at in spring training, but with the veteran Castro returning, Garver showing signs of being the next long term catcher, and Astudillo with options left, it makes too much sense to start with Castro and Garver in the bigs and have Astudillo wait in the minors. It’s quite rare for a team to use 3 slots on their 25-man roster on catchers, and while Astudillo’s positional flexibility helps with that somewhat, it’s hard to day if it will be enough.