Minnesota Twins catching prospect Ryan Jeffers has put himself on the map in a short amount of time and Otto Johnson caught up with him on his plans for 2020.
The Minnesota Twins selected catcher Ryan Jeffers in the second round of the 2018 draft with the 59th Overall Pick. Immediately after the draft, there were concerns that the Twins may have reached slightly for a solid hitter that had defensive question marks.
Since Jeffers started playing professionally, he has eased all of those concerns and has become the top catching prospect in the Twins system as well as the 10th-ranked prospect (via MLB Pipeline) in one of the better systems in baseball. In just two seasons, done nothing but hit and has shot through the system up to Double-A Pensacola. Jeffers also has greatly improved his framing and blocking, furthering his claim as the top catcher in the Twins system.
I got the opportunity to speak to Jeffers on the phone and find out a little more about him and how it feels to be a prospect with the Twins. We got to talk about his life, the Minnesota Twins organization, catching, and baseball in his home state of North Carolina. After a quick greeting, we got down to business.
On 2019 and the offseason
Otto: Let’s talk about your 2019; You had a really nice year: You got married, got promoted to Double-A, and continued to make your way up prospect lists as a ballplayer. How do you feel about 2019 and what are some goals for the next year?
Ryan: I really felt it went great. I have no regrets from the past season, and everything went really about as well as I hoped it would. Getting married was awesome and I worked hard to keep getting better and that went great. Going into next season, I’m trying not set any goals, I’m not big into “this is what I have to get to or achieve”, I’m more about playing the best I can play and keeping myself prepared and attacking everything that comes my way.
Otto: How do you spend a lot of your free time now, like what do you do in the offseason?
Ryan: Well as you said, I just got married on December 1st, so that has taken up a lot of the time, but other than that, I’m in the weight room, on the ball field, or we got a dog so I’ve spent time with the puppy. It’s been baseball and getting everything situated after the wedding.
On being in the Twins’ organization
Otto: What is it like being a prospect for the Minnesota Twins specifically, and how did you feel being drafted and brought into the Twins’ minor league system?
Ryan: Growing up I didn’t watch a ton of baseball being from North Carolina, so the Twins’ organization was new to me. I had to do a lot of learning about the history of the Twins and stuff like that, but it’s been awesome. Everything has been pretty much what I’ve dreamed of with how the organization has been run and how much time the organization puts into development. I’ve heard about other organizations that don’t give as much 1-on-1 time and development, so the Twins have been great.
Otto: As someone who has played at four levels of the Twins system, who are some of your favorite people you’ve gotten to work with, whether it be teammates, coaches, or other staff as part of the organization?
Ryan: I’ve developed a lot of really solid relationships with my teammates and coaches, and I’ve got along really well with my managers, and I got along really well with Tanner Swanson before he took the Yankees job (Swanson is now the major league quality control coach and catching coordinator for New York), we got close in terms of coaching and relationship-wise and he had really mentored me these first couple years, but I’ve gotten close with a lot of guys.
Otto: What has been your favorite stop of the four levels you’ve been at so far?
Ryan: Double-A for sure. there’s more of a respect aspect and everybody is just trying to do what they need to get done. In Fort Myers there were some long days down there, you’d have to change your sweaty socks a couple times a game because of the humidity. In Pensacola, it was real professional and the playoff push was fun.
Otto: Of everyone you’ve played with who has been the most fun and most talented person you’ve played with?
Ryan: Most talented is tough because it’s different aspects. In terms of athleticism, I’ve probably never met anyone with more just pure athleticism than Royce [Lewis], the kid is a freak athlete. For pitching, I’ve caught [Jhoan] Duran at three levels ever since he got traded here and he’s fun to catch with electric stuff, but I’ve played with so many good guys and the lineups have just been stacked, so it could be a lot of people.
On being a catcher
Otto: A lot of prospect sites put your estimated big league arrival in 2021. Mitch Garver just finished up an excellent season as the Twins’ catcher, and he’s under contract till 2023. Do you see yourself as a good platoon partner with him for a couple of seasons?
Ryan: Yeah, I’ve always thought learning from someone with more experience is a great thing. I’m a good learner, take in a lot of information, ask a lot of questions, and any time there’s a person who is where you want to be, it’s awesome to learn from them.
Otto: When it comes to actually playing the game, do you enjoy hitting or catching more? What makes the game of baseball enjoyable for you?
Ryan: I think I enjoy both, but I have more fun behind the plate, I love the game-calling aspect, constant mind games with batters, just diving into that aspect of it. Obviously I love to hit, but I think I have more fun getting back there behind the plate.
Otto: When you’re behind the plate, is there a lot of trash talk with the people behind the plate, or is it pretty civil?
Ryan: For the most part, it’s usually good conversation, and that’s one of the things I like about pro ball vs. college ball. There aren’t a ton of rivalries and most of the minor leaguers are all in the same boat, really just trying to make it to the show. There are a few jerks here and there, but generally, it’s ok. It’s fun to mess around with the guys you know and you build relationships with the people because you’re playing them 20 times a year.
On North Carolina baseball
Otto: You’re from North Carolina. What is it like growing up playing baseball there?
Ryan: It’s awesome, it’s always been good, ever since high school. I’ve always played against really good competition. Travel ball down here is good, there’s a lot of travel ball stuff around here with some really good programs and training complexes, it’s kind of a hub for baseball and it’s really helped me going up against good competition.
Otto: How’d you come to the decision to play ball at UNC-Wilmington? What were the main factors?
Ryan: I didn’t have a ton of options coming out of high school. I had a couple of Division-II offers, but the coach offered me a preferred walk-on spot at Wilmington, so that was what I felt like was the best situation for me with the coaches and everything to get to pro ball. I took the risk to try and develop more, earned a scholarship, and the rest is history.
Otto: Did UNCW reach out to you because of how close you were located to the school?
Ryan: Not really, I think they saw me in Atlanta first, I’m sure it was a little easier to come to see me in high school and helped with recruitment. It was nice for me to be able to come down and get a better look at the school though.
Otto: What was college like for you? What did you do in your spare time other than trying to make it pro?
Ryan: It was hard, I was a physics major, so when I wasn’t on the baseball field I was doing homework or sleeping but I wasn’t doing much outside of that.
Otto: Now for a different direction: How much time have you actually spent in the state of Minnesota? I know it’s not North Carolina, but what are your initial thoughts?
Ryan: So I was up there after the draft, and it was really hot, the middle of June, it was great to be up there, and Minneapolis is awesome, that was a lot of fun. My next experience was for Twins Fest, and it was -6 degrees. I’d never been in anything that cold, and everyone up there treated it like it was another day at the park for them, so that was a new experience and it was cool to see Minneapolis with snow on the ground.
Otto: How was your first Twins Fest experience? Did you have anybody recognize you or figure out who you were?
Ryan: It was awesome being up there with all the big league guys, I got to talk with [Twins General Manager Thad Levine] and [Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey] a bit, I’ve had some good conversations with them when they’ve come to the affiliates but it was nice to see them and meet all the fans.
Otto: Did you have anybody recognize you or figure out who you were?
Ryan: All the guys who were invited to spring training got the names on the back of their jerseys and the guys who weren’t invited, myself included, didn’t. So people would know you were a player and wait for you to walk by and look at the back of your jersey and have no clue who you are, which was funny. It’s just been awesome overall, though, last year was really cool.
Otto: Alright, then to wrap this up, is there anything you’d like to let Twins fans know about you going forward?
Ryan: Not really, to be honest, I should have prepared a statement. I’m happy to be a Twin, and I’m looking forward to the future. I look forward to being a member of the Minnesota Twins and hopefully playing for them soon.