Jeffers' mindset unchanged by Sánchez trade

March 21st, 2022

SARASOTA, Fla. -- If you think this has been a whirlwind of a week for the Twins as an outside observer, imagine being 24-year-old catcher .

The Twins had three catchers on their 40-man roster coming out of the lockout, and Jeffers is the only one still on the team. When Minnesota traded away former Silver Slugger Award winner Mitch Garver, it appeared to be as much of an endorsement of Jeffers as anything else, seemingly paving the way for the young backstop to assume full-time duties.

Then, one day later, the Twins acquired  in the blockbuster deal that sent Josh Donaldson to the Yankees, once again creating an unconventional two-slugger timeshare behind the plate. The club has since emphasized that both Jeffers and Sánchez will see plenty of time at the position -- and Jeffers is willing to go out and earn his playing time again.

Still, Jeffers considers the initial trade of Garver as a sign of the Twins' continued faith in him as their catcher of the present and the future, and he's eager to build on his 2021 season and reward them for that faith.

"I think it shows some trust in me that they made the Garver move, that they do trust in me and they see that I can be that guy," Jeffers said. "But nothing's given. You bring in a guy like Gary, and he's a really good player. For me, I'm going to go out there and work."

Though that flurry of trades happened in a hurry, the Twins have maintained that the deal that sent Garver to the Rangers and the follow-up that brought Sánchez to Minnesota weren't linked. They did want Isiah Kiner-Falefa, acquired in the Garver deal, to be their starting shortstop and brought him to camp (however briefly). They were talking about acquiring a veteran to take some of the workload off Jeffers, but they would largely have counted on him.

When the Yankees called looking for Kiner-Falefa, though, the deal ultimately ended up involving Sánchez and his offensive upside, and manager Rocco Baldelli has chatted with Jeffers during the past week to explain that time behind the plate will largely be split, with at-bats available at designated hitter for both backstops.

"He knows he's going to be a guy that we're relying upon," Baldelli said. "We don't want him to change his approach in any way for how he's preparing for this season. I think he's going to be fine. But when you hear news like that, I think it's very natural to feel things and to think things until someone sits you down and kind of lays the facts out for you."

None of this changes the way the Twins feel about Jeffers, whom they aggressively promoted through their organization following his selection as a second-round pick in the 2018 Draft. Through his MLB debut in 2020, he was highly regarded both for his glove and his bat. He's clearly their cornerstone catcher of the future.

Sánchez is set to become a free agent following this season, and that lines up with Jeffers' continued development, too. The youngster knows as well as anyone that he's not a finished product. He has yet to show consistent big league success, having followed up his .791 OPS in 26 games as a rookie in the shortened 2020 campaign with a .199/.270/.401 line (.670 OPS) in 85 appearances last season.

Jeffers showed up to camp with a new, more relaxed batting stance featuring much lower hands -- almost close to his belt line -- before he begins his stride. He feels much more comfortable and adaptable at the plate, he says, after having felt "lost" for stretches of last season without ways to figure out exactly what was off about his approach.

Jeffers likely would have been fine -- especially on defense and in his command of the pitching staff -- if the Twins had counted more heavily on him this season, but now, there's less pressure to figure things out right away and have that immediate breakout at the plate with another talented bat in the mix.

"It makes me feel good knowing I did enough over the last couple of years to show, 'Hey, despite the struggles I've had, they know I'm going to come out and can be one of the best catchers in baseball,'" Jeffers said. "I still believe that. There's no reason why I shouldn't."

If and when he finds that form, the Twins will be ready for it.

"I think Ryan continues to get better, continues to show what has made him someone that we felt good about in the future, and feel good about what he’s going to bring this year," said president of baseball operations Derek Falvey.