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. He has found a comfort zone in working with pitchers, improved his footwork behind the plate, is making better contact with his bat and is more confident when explaining his gameplan for attacking opponents.
“It’s just a learning curve,” the 27-year-old catcher said.
The biggest lesson came when Garver learned to overcome his doubts.
Thrust into more playing time after Jason Castro suffered 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,” the New Mexico native 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 [got off] 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 or smartphone. And some of it was directed at Garver while fans wondered if the team would trade for a more experienced catcher following Castro’s injury.
“It’s everywhere,” Garver said. “People tweet at you or [direct] message you and say, ‘Hey, you stink.’ ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ ‘Die.’ Once you get all those distractions, out of your way, it’s so much easier to play.”
Garver kept putting in the work. He does daily pitch-blocking drills. He can run meetings with the pitchers and pitching coach Garvin Alston to go over gameplans.
The Twins went with the catching tandem of Garver and veteran Bobby Wilson after Castro went down, but their playing time was split because Wilson, 35, is more polished behind the plate and pitchers liked throwing to him.
But Garver has improved, and he has been winning over the pitching staff. Even before Wilson landed on the disabled list because of a sprained ankle Friday, manager Paul Molitor was starting to shift more playing time toward Garver.
“Defensively, I feel like [catching] is a pretty tough transition,” righthander Kyle Gibson said. “The reports get bigger, you need to know more stuff, you need to be aware of more stuff. He’s done a good job of talking with Bobby and still talking with ‘Stro,’ I’m sure, utilizing the reports and everything we have at our disposal to get us prepared.
“It has showed. He’s been prepared, and he’s doing well.”
Garver earned Twins Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2017 because of his bat, as he hit .291 with 17 homers and 45 RBI in 88 games at Class AAA Rochester. His potential at the plate has appeared in flashes.
He enters Tuesday’s series against Cleveland batting .250 with seven homers and 32 RBI. He had a 33-game stretch in June and July in which he hit .330 with a .419 on-base percentage, 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 this season he is only at 19 percent (although it can be argued pitchers also often responsible for giving up steals). And Garver has had seven passed balls, including one Sunday.
“It’s been steady,” Molitor said of Garver’s 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, 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, “It’s about time somebody admits that.”