Monday, December 31, 2018

Where they stand: Catcher

The Twins have not yet made the signing of Nelson Cruz official. Presumably they are waiting for the results of his physical; they are, quite likely, also looking for the best way to open a roster slot. They would probably like to trade Tyler Austin, but there may not be a market for him. Remember, they got him on waivers last summer.

But assuming that Cruz is indeed signed, the Twins have their Plan A lineup in hand for 2019. Let's go though that set of regulars, position by position, starting with catcher.

Presumed regular: Jason Castro.

Others on the 40: Mitch Garver and Willians Astudillo

Nonroster contenders for the active roster: none

One of the many things that went wrong for the Twins pitching staff last season was Castro's prolonged absence from the lineup. He played just 19 games and hit .143 in 74 plate appearances before having knee surgery that took him out for the remainder of the season.

We know the drill on Castro: Strong defensive catcher, marginal hitter. (It's hard to believe that he routinely hit third for Houston in 2013.). He's expected to be fully ready for spring training and the third and final year of his contract.

Garver is pretty much Castro's mirror image: A good hitter for a catcher but with noticeable limitations behind the plate. He was charged with nine passed balls and was involved in 33 wild pitches; that's way too many pitches being chased to the backstop. He threw out just 18 percent of basestealers (league average was 28 percent). He didn't catch in September after sustaining a concussion.

I think Astudillo is the better player -- a superior defensive catcher and probably equally productive at the plate, although the production is in a different shape than Garver's. Astudillo is also a lot more fun to watch play ball than pretty much anybody on the roster. But he's unlikely to be on the active roster unless and until either Castro or Garver gets hurt.

The biggest problem for Astudillo's chances of making the roster is that Garver is out of options and thus cannot be readily sent to the minors, and that's not a problem for Astudillo. The Twins aren't likely to discard Garver, and I'm not sure that Astudillo is going to convince the decision makers that he's a guy they want to carry as a multi-use player, although that is a possibility.


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