That B.J. Garbe first-round draft pick from 1999 is finally paying dividends for the Twins.
Garbe never made it past Class AA despite receiving a $2.75 million signing bonus, but he was a high school teammate of Ryan Doumit, the free-agent catcher who agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with the Twins on Friday.
Joe Mauer's struggles to stay healthy and the collective offensive futility of Drew Butera and Co. left the Twins determined to find a better backup catching option. They accomplished that goal by landing Doumit, who batted .303 in 77 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season.
Doumit (pronounced Doe-mitt) is not a good defensive catcher by any measure, but he hit enough to hold down Pittsburgh's Opening Day catching job the past four seasons. He also has 54 starts in right field, 32 at first base and 12 at designated hitter, so there are other ways to get his bat in the lineup.
"When you look at the Twins situation, they're looking for someone who can fill a lot of roles," said Doumit's agent, Paul Cobbe. "Ryan's a guy who can back you up at different positions and do a lot of things. He's thrilled about this."
Doumit's father, Pete, was the baseball coach at Moses Lake (Wash.) High School. In 1999, that team had three players picked in the first two rounds of the draft -- Garbe (No. 5 overall), Doumit (No. 59) and Jason Cooper (No. 63).
Cooper went to Stanford before signing with the Cleveland Indians and peaked in Class AAA.
After signing with Pittsburgh, Doumit used to head to spring training early each year, joining Garbe for workouts in Fort Myers, Fla. Twins third base coach Steve Liddle used to throw batting practice to Doumit, Garbe, Mauer and Justin Morneau.
"One of Ryan's best friends is B.J. Garbe," Cobbe said. "Through him, he already has a history with the Twins."
The Twins don't view Doumit as their best answer for right field if Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel leave via free agency. And Doumit would not be the primary option at first base if Morneau needs to become a full-time DH.
But if Morneau needs to DH, Mauer could move to first base and Doumit could catch. And if Mauer loses 50 or more games to injury again, the Twins will have another option besides Butera, a top defensive catcher who was overexposed at the plate last year, batting .167 with a .210 on-base percentage in 254 plate appearances.
Doumit, a career .271 hitter, is a switch hitter with power, though 56 of his 67 career home runs have come batting lefthanded.
Defensively, Doumit has a strong arm, but in 2010 he threw out just 12 percent of his opposing base runners and ranked second in the National League with nine passed balls. For comparison, Mauer nabbed 26 percent of his opposing baserunners that year and had four passed balls.
Last year, Doumit broke his left ankle in a home plate collision with Carlos Pena and missed two months. He came back strong, however, leading all NL hitters with a .404 batting average in September.
He hit the free-agent market after the Pirates declined his $7.25 million option for next year. His new deal with the Twins will pay him up to $250,000 in incentives, based on plate appearances. The Twins are expected to officially announce the deal Wednesday, after Doumit takes a physical.
Twins officials declined to comment about Doumit on Friday, but they worked quickly to address their catching situation after signing middle-infielder Jamey Carroll to a two-year, $6.75 million deal.Reliever Bulger signs minor league deal
Hoping to strengthen their bullpen, the Twins signed former Angels reliever Jason Bulger to a minor league deal.
Bulger, who turns 33 next month, went 6-1 with a 3.56 ERA in 64 games for the Angels in 2009. He had a shoulder issue in 2010 and spent most of 2011 with Class AAA Salt Lake City, where he posted a 4.03 ERA with 49 strikeouts and 17 walks in 38 innings.
Twins scouts clocked Bulger's fastball between 91 and 94 miles per hour in September.
"He still throws hard, and we're looking for some velocity in our bullpen," said Twins assistant GM Rob Antony.Other roster moves
At the deadline to protect players for the Rule 5 draft, the Twins added three players to the 40-man roster: outfielder Oswaldo Arcia, righthanded reliever Carlos Gutierrez and lefthander Tyler Robertson. They also trimmed one player, righthander David Bromberg, leaving 37 players on the roster. Doumit will make it 38 next week.