Thirty-one home runs. A .273 batting average. An astounding .630 slugging percentage. Those were the numbers put forth from Minnesota backstop Mitch Garver in 2019. Then, a delayed and shortened season, on top of an injury or two derailed his 2020 campaign. Garver was limited to 23 games last season (81 plate appearances) and hit just two home runs with five RBI and an underwhelming .167/.247/.264 slash line. Some of his batted ball metrics compare quite nicely to his superb 2019 season, but there are bigger issues at play that cast a cloud over Garver’s fantasy value in 2021.
When you take a look at his 2020 numbers, while his overall exit velocity was up, his barrel rate was significantly down. In fact, it was nearly cut in half, as it dropped from 15.5 percent to 8.3 percent. Sure, it’s a very limited sample, and while he continued to barrel up fastballs, there were other pitches that he failed to barrel up in 2020.
His fly ball percentage took a big hit, but the majority of it was traded for line drives and not ground balls, so that’s a positive. However, per Baseball Savant, his pop-up rate jumped four percent compared to 2019, and he was underneath the ball 36.1 percent of the time. Now, with a diminished barrel rate, the results weren’t as fruitful as you may have hoped.
Before we get into the biggest factors casting aspersion onto Garver’s 2021 fantasy baseball outlook, I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about Garver pre-and-post-injury. He spent 29 days on the injured list due to an intercostal strain and the results before, and after, were alarming.
Avg. Exit Velo
At least the exit velocity was back following the injury. Sure, the numbers were really bad after the injury, but at least some of the pop returned. And honestly, in 2019 he homered, struck out, or walked 44.3 percent of the time. In 2020, that mark was 56.8 percent, with an unhealthy amount coming from the punch out. I mean, not too terribly far off, right? With the batted ball profile he displayed after returning from injury, he should be just fine in 2021.
Alright, it’s about that time. It’s time to address the two-and-a-half elephants in the room.
1. Splits! Splits! Splits!
Garver has some split disadvantages that don’t favor him. It’s not like he’s horrible against righties, as he actually hits them for power quite well. However, the other peripherals aren’t as favorable for the 30-year-old slugger. Here are some of his numbers for his career.
Again, it’s not that he’s bad against righties at all! The analytics just point to a clear preference.
2. Ryan Jeffers
Minnesota seems to love this young gun behind the dish. He hit for a decent average coming up the minor league ranks with average pop at best. He hit .273 with three home runs and seven RBI in 26 games last year, but Minnesota is going to use him this year. Of course, Garver can’t play every day, but if Garver struggles, he might find himself on the short side of a platoon with the 23-year-old Jeffers behind the dish.
2.5. Further Playing Time Concerns
This kind of ties into bullet point number two, but I decided to make it its own. Being in the American League, Garver has the luxury of the designated hitter spot to get what I consider pseudo off-days. With a wealth of outfielders, Eddie Rosario ’s departure added to Garver’s expected lineup frequency, and Nelson Cruz being in free agency helped Garver immensely. However, with the Twins bringing back Cruz and slugger Miguel Sanó at first base, if Garver isn’t catching it’s going to be hard for him to crack the Minnesota lineup.
With regular playing time, Garver could easily lead all catchers in home runs. However, he is no lock for regular playing time in 2021. An injury or two would help his chances to get some time as the DH or maybe even first baseman, but otherwise, he will need to hit to earn his keep. He’s currently the 13th catcher off the board and making him your first catcher is incredibly risky. However, he’s a luxury back up, because his upside is immense, and we’ve seen it in 2019.
I love drafting Garver as a second catcher in 2021, but his situation has forced me to make him my second catcher, and not my first.