Mitch Garver feels more comfortable as regular Twins catcher

August 27, 2018

Twins players and coaches have noticed that Mitch Garver is a much different person than he was at the beginning of the season.

Garver is needling teammates, using self-deprecating humor and, most importantly, developing all-around skills as a catcher. Hes found a comfort zone in working with the pitchers, improved his footwork behind the plate, is barreling more pitches at the plate and is more confident when explaining his game plan for attacking opponents.

Its just a learning curve, the 27-year-old said.

The biggest lesson came when Garver learned to overcome his doubts.

Thrust into more playing time when Jason Castro went down with a season-ending knee injury in early May, Garver struggled with adjusting to the speed of the game. Some consider catcher the most vital position on the field, because it requires game-planning, handling the different personalities on a pitching staff, helping to control the running game and then finding a way produce offensively. In this day and age, you can add pitch framing to the desired skill sets.

And Garver made mistakes.

There were early struggles, he said, and people would let me hear about them, whether it would be the media or the staff or whatever. I had to wear that.

There were doubts in my head. Like was I really ready for this? Should I even be here? Stuff like that. Once that went away, I deleted Twitter and started caring less about what people thought, I started playing my game and I was fine.

Oh yes, Twitter, the online meeting place where it is happy hour all day long and users can sling invectives while hiding behind a computer. And some of it was directed at Garver while fans wondered if the team would trade for a more experienced catcher following Castros injury.

Its everywhere, Garver said, People tweet at you or [direct] message you and say, Hey, you stink. You shouldnt be here. Die. Once you get all those distractions out of your way, its so much easier to play.

Garver kept putting in the work. He does daily pitching blocking drills. He can run meetings with the pitchers and pitching coach Garvin Alston to go over game plans.

The Twins stuck with the catching tandem of Garver and Bobby Wilson after Castro went down, but it was more of a split because Wilson is more polished behind the plate and pitchers liked throwing to him.

But Garver has improved and is winning over the pitching staff. Even before Wilson sprained his ankle on Friday, Twins manager Paul Molitor was starting to shift more playing time toward Garver.

Defensively, I feel like [catching] is a pretty tough transition, pitcher Kyle Gibson said. The reports get bigger, you need to know more stuff, you need to be aware of more stuff. Hes done a good job of talking with Bobby and still talking with Stro, Im sure, utilizing the reports and everything we have at our disposal to get us prepared.

It has showed. Hes been prepared and hes doing well.

Garvers potential at the plate has appeared in flashes. He enters Tuesdays series against Cleveland batting .250 with seven homers and 32 RBI. He had a 33-game stretch in June and July during which he hit .330 with a .419 OBP with three homers and 13 RBI. With more playing time coming, Garver has a chance to keep his bat sharp.

With his power potential and improved skills, they Twins think he can be a dual-threat catcher. But he has to keep working. For instance, he threw out 32 percent of base stealers in the minors but just 19 percent so far this season (although it can be argued pitchers also often responsible for giving up steals). And Garver has allowed seven passed balls, including one on Sunday.

Its been steady, Molitor said of Garvers progress. It encompasses all areas of catching, from mindfulness of game-calling, blocking balls, catch-and-throw abilities, framing, and just the overall sense that my pitchers have gotten a lot more comfortable throwing with him as this season has gone on.

Gibson referred to his last start, on Wednesday against the White Sox, as an example of how Garver should be trusted.

I started to struggle when I was shaking him off, Gibson said. I was thinking too much. Trying to be one step ahead of the hitter instead of being on the same page with Garv.

Garver nodded when the story was relayed to him, then deadpanned: Its about time somebody admits that.

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