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Garver aiming to crack Opening Day roster

Catcher in prime position to grab backup role after 5 solid Minor League seasons
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After five strong seasons in the Minors, Mitch Garver has put himself in prime position to make the Twins' Opening Day roster for the first time as backup catcher to Jason Castro, especially with last year's backup Chris Gimenez signing with the Cubs on a Minor League deal.

But the 27-year-old will have to earn the job. Garver met with manager Paul Molitor and the front office on Thursday, and they reiterated he'll be competing this spring with non-roster invites such as Bobby Wilson and Willians Astudillo.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After five strong seasons in the Minors, Mitch Garver has put himself in prime position to make the Twins' Opening Day roster for the first time as backup catcher to Jason Castro, especially with last year's backup Chris Gimenez signing with the Cubs on a Minor League deal.

But the 27-year-old will have to earn the job. Garver met with manager Paul Molitor and the front office on Thursday, and they reiterated he'll be competing this spring with non-roster invites such as Bobby Wilson and Willians Astudillo.

"We want to give him an avenue to win the job," Twins general manager Thad Levine said. "But absent of him winning that, he's not going to be on this club. He needs to go out and seize this opportunity. We did feel some degree of honor bound to give him an opportunity, then it would be up to him to make the most of it."

Garver has been known for his offense since he was chosen in the ninth round of the 2013 Draft out of the University of New Mexico, slashing .271/.364/.429 in 508 career games. He's fared even better at Triple-A, with a .298/.386/.529 slash line and 18 homers in 110 games.

Video: CWS@MIN: Garver cracks first career double

He's had to work on his defense over the years, and pitchers who have been with him since he was in the low Minors stress that he's made the necessary improvements to be a Major League catcher.

"He's taken huge strides," reliever Trevor Hildenberger said. "I first saw him in [Class A Advanced] with the Miracle and he was good, but more as a thrower I'd say. But his receiving skills, he just keeps stepping it up, and same with his blocking. And stealing strikes, especially on fastballs low, he's gotten a lot better with my sinker. And his throws have not only become more accurate, but more consistent."

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Garver credits the hard work he puts into the offseason for helping him improve defensively, and learning from coaches and fellow catchers along the way. Garver got his first taste of the Majors last year, getting called up in mid-August and playing in 23 games, and said Castro and Gimenez were big influences on him.

"I think there's a lot of room to improve, but I feel like I can catch at the big league level and control a pitching staff," Garver said. "It's just a matter of getting those reps and being more comfortable on that stage and picking up everything I learned from Jason and applying it to a game."

Video: TOR@MIN: Garver doubles off third baseman in the 6th

Garver played only sporadically after getting called up, starting four games at catcher. He slashed .196/.288/.348 with three triples, but made the postseason roster for the AL Wild Card Game. The Twins know he's a better offensive performer than he showed in that brief stint, and if he makes the club as expected, he'll get a bulk of his playing time against lefties this year.

"We probably didn't see him at his best when he came up," Molitor said. "It's not surprising, but he had to make some adjustments. But we think there's a lot in there. He's not a young kid anymore. He's got the right mindset about what he needs to do."

Garver said he's excited to show what he can do this spring and knows the door is open for him to claim a spot on this year's roster as one of only a few position battles in camp.

"It's a different feeling," Garver said. "I'm just trying to get in the baseball mood right now and fine tune some things. Once I get into the games, it'll be fun to see how some of the things I've worked on work out."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Mitch Garver