Jeffers: 'So many memories' from solid debut

August 21st, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Here's what the Twins told top catching prospect  when he was called up for his Major League debut on Thursday: Focus on the defense; anything that happens on offense is just gravy.

It's more fun to do both, though.

The 23-year-old Jeffers became the first member of the Twins' 2018 MLB Draft class to make his Major League debut when he started at catcher and batted ninth in Thursday night's series finale against the Brewers, and he made an immediate impact with both the glove and the bat in Minnesota's 7-1 win. Jeffers knocked a pair of singles and guided Opening Day starter José Berríos to a needed bounceback start.

"There's so much I could say [I'll remember]," said Jeffers, the organization's No. 6 prospect. "Walking up to the plate for the first time and hearing your name called. Going out there and having José throw the way he did. Getting that first RBI. There's so many memories from tonight. I'm going to cherish all of them."

It's no ballplayer's dream to make a Major League debut in front of an empty stadium, especially with one's parents halfway across the country and watching on television. Still, as Jeffers talked things through with his wife, Lexi, prior to his arrival at the ballpark, he thought that might actually be for the best. Not that he had much of a choice, anyway.

"Having the stadium empty, not having the pressure of the fans out there, might honestly make that debut a little easier," Jeffers said. "It might not stir up as many nerves [as] if you've got a full stadium of 40,000 people hollering at you. It's just another one of those things that COVID throws at you and that you've got to roll with."

It would have been nice for Jeffers, a former second-round Draft pick, to have shared this moment in person with his parents and in-laws, all of whom he called late last night after farm director Alex Hassan had called Jeffers to inform him of the promotion. He'll have to settle for sharing with them the two authenticated baseballs he carried in his back pocket as he did his postgame video interview -- one for each of his hits, including an RBI single that gave the Twins their first lead in the third inning.

Jeffers stepped to the plate following a one-out triple by Ildemaro Vargas and stroked a clean single into left field at 105.6 mph, the fourth-hardest hit ball of the game, to give Minnesota a 1-0 advantage. His next time up, he squared another ball up at 104.7 mph for his second hit.

He was hit by a pitch and scored a run in the eighth inning, becoming the first Twins player to reach base three times in his Major League debut since Brian Dinkelman was hit by a pitch, singled and drew an intentional walk on June 4, 2011.

Jeffers split time between Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A Pensacola last season, hitting .264/.341/.421 with 14 homers and 16 doubles in 103 games across the two levels.

"He’s a baseball player," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Guys that are just able to innately do things that sometimes are difficult for others, and [they] come easy to him. He has that very easy way about him, but he’s very perceptive. He’s catching everything, literally and figuratively. That’s really what we’re getting when we send him out there, we knew that coming in. But watching him go up there and get his first knock in a big spot, we all think it’s cool."

The catching skills, too, were as advertised. He had been highly regarded for his Major League-ready frame (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and the pop in his bat throughout his time in the organization, but the Twins were particularly excited about his defensive ability and improvements.

Jeffers looked natural as he framed pitches from Berríos all over the zone, and even though the rookie had a limited amount of time to prepare for the Brewers' lineup, Berríos said he only shook off Jeffers three or so times as the right-hander bounced back from a rough start to the season with six innings of one-hit ball.

This could well have been Willians Astudillo's roster spot, but the difference, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said, is that the Twins see Jeffers as an option for more consistent playing time at catcher, while Astudillo is seen as more of a utility player between catcher and the infield. Falvey expects Jeffers to earn a large chunk of the playing time behind the plate while Mitch Garver recovers from a right intercostal strain over the next 10 days.

Jeffers got a large amount of exposure to the Twins' Major League pitching staff during Spring Training and was also on the MLB side throughout Summer Camp, working every day alongside Garver and backup Alex Avila while taking at-bats against big league pitchers.

His first exposure to the real deal, too, was a resounding success.

"We were very attentive to keeping him over here in Summer Camp and spending some time with our pitchers," Falvey said. "Because we knew that, after his experience in Fort Myers [during Spring Training], getting to know some of those guys, making sure that he got to see all those guys during summer camp, we felt like he’s really progressed and really advanced."