(WCCO) — The Minnesota Twins were one of the 2019 MLB season’s biggest surprises. The upstarts from Minnesota cruised to 101 wins and the American League Central title. While the Cleveland Indians climbed back into the race going into the All-Star break and stayed close well into September, the regular season’s outcome was never really in doubt. The early playoff exit was disappointing, of course, but the Twins’ prospects for the 2020 season, when and if it starts, are promising.
Minnesota’s bats came to life last season, compiling a .270 team average, second best in baseball, and pounding 307 home runs, tops in the League. It was a team-wide power surge.
But one major reason was the increased production of 29-year-old catcher Mitch Garver. In his third MLB season with the team (his seventh in the organization), the part-time catcher discovered his inner power hitter. Garver hit .273/.365/.630 over his 311 at-bats, with 31 home runs and 67 RBI. While his average bested his 2018 average by just five points, his power output was noticeably improved across the board; he hit one HR for every 10 at-bats, and better than one run batted in for every five at-bats.
The 2019 AL Silver Slugger at catcher had showed flashes of power in the minors, including 16 home runs at single-A Cedar Rapids in 2014 and 17 home runs at AAA Rochester in 2017. But nothing suggested he’d one day become a big-league power hitter to be feared and respected. But it could easily happen this season.
A couple things will likely prevent Garver from putting up the truly gaudy numbers sometimes seen from MLB’s elite power hitters. The first is a shortened season. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, baseball’s opening day has been pushed back to at least mid-May. Recent news on the public health front suggests that tentative date will be pushed back again. Adding all of the approximately 40 games to be missed (and counting) to the end of the season would extend the season at least into December. Obviously that’s not feasible. The maximum number of games possible with a mid-May start would be around 140.
The second reason is his limited at-bats based on how the Twins deploy and rest position players. Garver, when healthy, played somewhere around two-thirds of the team’s games behind the plate last season. (A high ankle sprain cost him the second half of May, but a right hip impingement in early September didn’t cost him any time.) So even if he’s fully healthy the entire season, it’s hard to see him playing bigger fraction of the team’s games. Nor is he likely to top last season’s 359 plate appearances.
Garver raised a few eyebrows last season with his production, but he won’t surprise anybody this season. If he produces at a clip similar to last year’s when he’s on the field, expect to see his name come up in the All-Star conversation. He’s already the best-hitting catcher out there.