SURPRISE, Ariz. -- In 2018, Rangers catching coach Bobby Wilson backed up Mitch Garver on the Minnesota Twins.
It was Garver’s first full season in the big leagues after 23 games with the squad the previous year. Wilson, then in the second-to-last season of his 10-year big league career, was a role model for Garver, who said there were times he absolutely had to lean on Wilson that year to motivate him.
Now, following a trade that sent infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Twins, Garver and Wilson have a chance to work together again, albeit in different roles.
“It's a little different because we've built a relationship that was more peer to peer, and now it's coach to player,” Wilson said. “So the dynamics are a little bit different. But it actually helps because he knows what I'm about, I know what he's about, and [that] just kind of speeds up that relationship from player to coach now, which is cool. We're able to have open conversations, which is nice. I don't really have to get to know him because I already do.”
While he’s around familiar faces -- including Minor League catching coordinator Garrett Kennedy, who spent time in the Twins’ farm system -- Garver has had a hectic week. As trade details were coming out, the catcher was packing up his things in his offseason home in Denver to head to Fort Myers, Fla., for Twins Spring Training.
It turned into a rush to redirect to Surprise instead. It was also emotional for Garver to process being traded from the only organization he has been in.
“I love the people there, from the clubhouse staff to the coaching staff; it's the relationships that you build kind of throughout your career,” Garver said. “But on the baseball side of things, I'm very excited. I've always admired the Texas organization. I'm really excited to be a part of this group. It's a talented young group, and obviously it looks like ownership is really making the push they want to win.”
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said he wanted to ease Garver into a new team and pitching staff, but Garver immediately was ready to hit the ground running. After watching Garver in catchers' meetings and seeing his interactions with Wilson, Woodward said Garver “came as advertised.”
“Obviously, you see in his face that he’s somewhere unfamiliar,” Wilson said. “And we're just trying to get them comfortable as fast as possible and get them on board with everything that we do and why we do it so that he understands what we're about.”
Woodward added that the most important thing for Garver this season is to keep him healthy. Garver struggled in 2021 due to injuries, spending time on the injured list with a groin contusion in June and with lower back tightness in August.
Garver said it was a season of “ups and downs” for him. Each time he felt like he was getting into the swing of things again, he went down with another injury.
When he’s healthy, there may be no better player at the position.
“I finished off the year strong,” Garver said in evaluation of his season. “I really swung the bat well, played good defense, but it was just kind of a disappointing year. … That was me, though [at the end of the season]. I pretty much hit everything that was thrown to me. I was playing good defense. I felt like a leader on the team. Of course, it was too late, but it was a good finish.”
Garver is most known for his elite bat, and he no doubt upgrades the Rangers’ production at the position. But what he brings to a young pitching staff shouldn't be undersold.
Jose Trevino and Jonah Heim were two of the best defensive catchers in the American League last season, and both developed chemistry with the pitching staff. No matter how much off-field preparation Garver and the coaching staff do, he is still a half-step behind with a new team and shortened Spring Training.
“Obviously I have to catch everybody, and we're gonna do the best to make sure I can do that,” Garver said. “Bobby Wilson's put together a great plan, and we do a debrief every day. So we can share information about certain pitchers, what we feel, or share how they work that particular day. So even if I'm not actually catching it, I feel like I'm getting to know these guys. The most important thing is to get back there and catch guys, so I can make sure they're comfortable with how I call a game and make sure I'm comfortable with the way that our department does things. I want to make the best possible opportunity for these guys.”