Friday, August 31, 2018

Trip to Cedar Rapids: The catchers

The Twins have twice in recent years, once under each front office regime, made concerted efforts to bolster the catching depth in the organization.

Mitch Garver, who is as close as the 2018 Twins have to a primary catcher, is the product of the Terry Ryan regime's effort. Five years ago the Twins used three picks in the first nine rounds on catchers. Stuart Turner (3rd round) is out of the organization, and Brian Navaretto (6th round) is at Double A Chattanooga, where he is having his best offensive season to date, which isn't saying much.

The Falvine regime made another push on backstops starting during last offseason and continuing though the draft. Two of those additions are on the Cedar Rapids roster right now, and I saw each behind the dish.

Ryan Jeffers was the Twins' second-round selection in June. Like Garver and Turner, he's a college draftee (North Carolina -Wilmington); like Garver, he is viewed as a bat-first backstop. 

When Garver came through Cedar Rapids, he hit third for the Kernels. Jeffers hit third in both games I saw, first as a catcher and then as the designated hitter.

His hitting lines in his two months or so as a pro are impressive, and he went 4-for-9 in the two games. The receiving skills are presumably a work in progress. 

Jeffers is big, and he doesn't appear to be as able as Joe Mauer was in his catching days to fold that big body into a low target. With no runners on, Jeffers frequently set up with one leg extended out to the side, a techinque I first saw used by Tony Pena some 30 years ago.

I saw one pitch elude him on Monday, a delivery low and to the glove side that may have been a cross-up and definitely wasn't located where Jeffers was set up. I don't know how to apportion the blame for that one.

David Banuelos had no such issues when he caught on Wednesday. But he also got no hits. Both fit the scouting report on him when the Twins got him from Seattle last November for international pool cap space during the Shohei Ohtani derby. He's been at Cedar Rapids all season, where both his on-base percentage and his slugging percentage are below .300. 

Others of some note in the Twins' catching-acquistion spree:

Chris Williams (8th round out of Clemson) has played strictly first base at Elizabethton, a level below Cedar Rapids, where he has hit 15 homers. That he hasn't caught yet as a pro may be significant.

Trevor Casanova (13th round out of El Camino College in California) is also at E-Town and putting up pretty solid numbers at the plate.

Jangison Villalobos, who was essentially a throw-in in the Phil Hughes salary dump during the season, is playing for the Twins complex team in the Gulf Coast League. He's old for that level, and I don't expect he'll ever get to Cedar Rapids.

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