FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins have a full 40-player major league roster, and the only catchers are Jason Castro and Mitch Garver. Veteran Chris Gimenez was much admired as Castro’s backup in 2017, and yet the front office felt a need to clear a spot that Garver could win in his sixth pro season and at age 27.
The Twins were a week into exhibition games on Feb. 28 when Garver strained a knee. He was sent for an MRI, it came back showing no damage and Garver was catching again on March 4.
This did raise the question: Where do the Twins go for a catcher if Castro or Garver were to get knocked out of action?
“You’re assuming Mitch is the backup?’’ manager Paul Molitor said. “If that’s the case, the third catcher would be Bobby Wilson.’’
This was on Friday, 10 days before the club leaves Florida, and Plan A remains Castro and Garver as the Twins’ tandem, with Wilson and Willians Astudillo as the Class AAA catchers at Rochester.
That might not be 100 percent. The Twins do want Garver’s righthanded bat for a lefty-heavy lineup, but he was 2-for-18 entering Friday. A couple of line drives in the gap would make everyone feel better.
The theory was offered to Derek Falvey, the Twins’ baseball boss, that catcher appeared to be the organization’s thinnest position for top talent.
“That could be true, but we do like what Wilson and Astudillo have done this spring, and we have an exceptional defensive catcher in Brian Navarreto,’’ Falvey said.
Navarreto, 23, will start the season at Class AA Chattanooga. The main catching prospects — Ben Rortvedt and David Banuelos — will be in the low minors.
Wilson is a Gimenez duplicate: much-traveled, considerable experience in the big leagues, capable of occasional power, and with a big clubhouse personality.
So why did the Twins sign Wilson last Nov. 25, when the original, Gimenez, wanted to return? He eventually signed with the Cubs, perhaps to catch Yu Darvish.
Here’s the why: After last season, if the Twins brought back Gimenez, it would be with the anticipation he was the backup. In signing Wilson, it’s with the understanding that he started spring training third on the depth chart.
Wilson had played in the big leagues in eight of the nine seasons from 2008 to 2016. He played a total of 75 games with three clubs in 2016, with decent power numbers: seven home runs and 33 RBI in 228 at-bats.
“I had a pretty good year for a backup catcher with three teams,’’ Wilson said. “That’s what made it so disappointing to spend all of last season in Triple-A.’’
Wilson signed with the L.A. Dodgers as a minor league free agent in 2017. It was the sixth straight year that he spent spring training with a new organization; the Twins are the seventh.
“It always felt like an insurance policy signing with the Dodgers,’’ Wilson said. “When you’re married with two girls, and a third on the way, you need a job.’’
He spent the long summer with the Dodgers’ top farm club in Oklahoma City: 77 games, .243, 11 home runs and 45 RBI in 243 at-bats. It’s hot in Oklahoma City.
“Hot as it gets,’’ Wilson said. “Luckily, the Dodgers had a great coaching staff there, and they made it a good experience.’’
Wilson has 5½ years of big-league service spread over eight seasons. How many Opening Days? He raised his head toward the ceiling in a “let’s see’’ gesture.
“Four Opening Days,’’ he said. “And up and down so many times during several seasons that I wouldn’t try to count.’’
Wilson was the catcher for Ervin Santana’s no-hitter on July 27, 2011. Santana will return from finger surgery close to May 1. Wilson also caught new starter Jake Odorizzi and closer Fernando Rodney.
Throw in starter Lance Lynn and relievers Addison Reed and Zach Duke, and Wilson sees an advantage for himself.
“You have Erv, and you have five new veteran pitchers who know how they want to go after hitters,’’ Wilson said. “They might want an experienced catcher to help with that.’’
There has been talk among Twins’ staffers this spring about Wilson’s ability as a “pitch framer,’’ and we know that helped get Castro a three-year contract with this new baseball administration before last season.
Wilson, 34, figures to be back in Class AAA when the Twins open in Baltimore on March 29, but it might not be the season-long sentence that it was for him a year ago.