Twins' Jeffers out to prove he can be ‘the best catcher in baseball’

Ryan Jeffers had a breakout 2023 season, but he still expected more from himself.

It was his first year with a new stance and swing, working with Twins hitting coach David Popkins after the 2022 season, and he didn't become fully comfortable with it until the second half of the season.

With more time to work on his swing last winter, Jeffers looks like he's transforming from a good hitter to one of the best in the majors. Jeffers, who homered in Thursday's 11-1 victory over the Mariners, is batting .306 with eight homers and 29 RBI in 33 games. His .631 slugging percentage is third in MLB, trailing only the Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani and Atlanta's Marcell Ozuna.

"I've always told you, since the day I got up here, I believe I can be the best catcher in baseball," Jeffers said. "I believe I can do that. We had to get there. Now I feel like we're at the point I just have to keep doing that. The biggest part of this game is consistency. Not getting complacent. Not feeling comfortable with where we're at."

It's been an impressive transformation for Jeffers, who struggled offensively in 2021 and ′22, and looked slated for a backup role behind Christian Vázquez at the beginning of last year. He cut his strikeout rate in half compared to 2021 while hitting for power.

"I think what makes him so good is that he's never satisfied," pitcher Pablo López said. "He'll be happy. He'll be content with performances with how he gets the job done, but he's always looking to get better."

Jeffers, who will turn 27 next month, actively changes his stance when he reaches two-strike counts. He will choke up on his bat. Even with his adjustments, he's still a dangerous hitter. His homer Thursday came on a two-strike cutter at the top of the strike zone, a swing that manager Rocco Baldelli called "special stuff."

"Coming up through college and the minors, when I'm right, I'm not worried to get to two strikes," said Jeffers, who has five homers and seven doubles in two-strike counts this year. "I'd love not to be 0-2 every single [at-bat], but if that is the case, I don't feel like I'm out of the AB. I feel like I can battle. It goes back to the confidence in my mechanics."

Martin, Julien collide

Center fielder Austin Martin and second baseman Edouard Julien fell into each other going after a shallow fly in the second inning. Martin dove and had the ball touch his glove before he slid into Julien, turning the play into a double.

"I didn't really hear anything," Martin said. "The closer I got to it, I tried to call it, so I could have some room to make an attempt, but we just collided. Nothing crazy, nothing too hard."

Martin collided with a shortstop when he was in left field last year during a Class A rehab assignment, delaying his return to Class AAA by about three weeks. "He ended up sliding right into my legs, and I had a bruised liver and bruised ribs," Martin said.

Crazy catch

During the second inning, Seattle's Mitch Garver lined out to two defenders. His line drive deflected off third baseman Jose Miranda's glove, but shortstop Willi Castro cut behind Miranda and caught it.

"Never seen it in my entire baseball career, ever," Baldelli said.

Castro remembered catching a foul ball off a deflection in 2022, as a right fielder, but never a line drive that dramatically changed its direction.


* Twins pitchers recorded 53 strikeouts during their four games against the Mariners, the most in team history for a four-game series.

* Injured Twins reliever Daniel Duarte, who will miss the rest of the 2024 season, had elbow surgery Tuesday in Dallas, an ulnar collateral ligament revision reconstruction performed by Dr. Keith Meister. It's the second time Duarte underwent Tommy John surgery in his career. He made two appearances for the Twins and the typical timeline to recover is 14-16 months.