Between 2004 and 2013, the Twins’ catcher situation had no worries as Joe Mauer was a reliable backstop. When Mauer took a series of foul balls off the facemask, he started to have concussion and vision problems. Then-General Manager Terry Ryan took no chances, moving Mauer permanently to first base, starting in 2014.
Since then, the Twins have been trying to find a young catcher to replace him. Former Twin Kurt Suzuki did a decent job for three years as he was on the All-Star team in 2014. Last off-season, Ryan traded starting center fielder Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy, which produced horrendous results. Soon after new leaders took the helm, they let Suzuki sign elsewhere, and found two new catchers who could have some different and much-needed strengths.
Jason Castro, who signed a three-year contract worth $24.5 million November 30, is the front-runner for the starting position. Castro’s ability to frame pitches is what intrigued GM Thad Lavine. He can get strike calls from umpires more than other catchers in the league. In fact, Castro had 96 strike calls last year that were not strikes. An All-Star in 2013, the 29-year-old has spent six seasons with Houston, batting .232 with 62 long balls and 212 RBIs. Castro has thrown out 26% of base stealers throughout his career. Castro led the National League in having the least passed balls by a catcher in 2014 with 11. The Twins would like him to get comfortable with the pitching staff and learn the inaccuracies of pitchers.
To compete with Castro, the Twins booked Chris Gimenez on a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite January 19. The 34-year-old is an eight-year veteran who has very average numbers. Playing for four teams, Gimenez has a .218 batting average, 15 home runs, 66 RBIs, and 33 doubles. Gimenez only has thrown out 24% of base stealers during his time behind the plate. Twins’ Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey might have played a role in his signing since they knew each other in Cleveland. Gimenez is expected to compete for a back-up catcher role among a slew of hopefuls, including Murphy.
The Twins really needed to get the catching predicament shored up, and adding these two is good progress. Murphy, who hit a measly .146 with 3 RBIs in 26 games last year, and Triple-A Rochester’s Mitch Garver might be dark horses to earn a spot if they perform decently this spring. In just a couple of days, the quest to finding the top two catchers in the organization begins! Keep an eye on Castro and Gimenez as they will be the ones leading the pack and getting most of the playing time.
Written by: Michael L. Sack