Vázquez went looking for answers after rough first season with Twins

FORT MYERS, FLA. — A little more than a week after the Twins were eliminated in the postseason by the Houston Astros, Christian Vázquez flew to Washington to visit Driveline, the data-driven baseball facility.

After one of the worst offensive seasons of his career, he immediately wanted to figure out a solution. His .223 batting average, .280 on-base percentage and .318 slugging percentage were all his lowest since 2018. His exit velocities dipped while his strikeout rate spiked.

The goal, after Vázquez was assessed at Driveline, was gaining more bat speed. Then he took a month off to clear his mind before beginning his offseason workouts on Dec. 1.

"It was a tough year," Vázquez said. "I wanted to do too much. There were a lot of things on my shoulders coming here coming from a [2022] World Series championship with Houston."

Vázquez joined the Twins on a three-year, $30 million contract. The Twins expected excellent defense and league-average offensive production. His defense was fine, but his poor offensive season meant he never entered any of the Twins' six playoff games.

Like any competitor, the 33-year-old Vázquez was disappointed he wasn't called upon in the postseason.

"I don't control that," he said. "I was ready to play. I don't make the lineup."

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli sat down with Vázquez at the beginning of the playoffs to explain his thought process for playing time. At the time, Baldelli called it one of the staff's most challenging decisions.

When Vázquez was asked whether the lack of playing time in the postseason served as a motivator this winter, he quickly responded: "Of course." He lost a little weight and feels faster whether he's running or generating energy with a bat in his hands.

"I feel like they don't give me two [World Series] rings by chance, you know," he said. "They don't give me $30 million [by chance] too, you know. It is what it is. I don't make those decisions. I'm ready now to play. I'm in better shape than last year and I think that's very important."

Baldelli envisions another near 50-50 playing time split between Jeffers and Vázquez during the regular season. Jeffers had a breakout offensive year, but the Twins believe keeping him fresh was an important factor.

It felt like Vázquez's 2023 season, at least offensively, was two steps backward after any good week he had. There were no standout months.

"He holds himself to a tough standard, and he wants to play better than he played last year, especially offensively," Baldelli said. "I have nothing but positive things to say about everything else he brought to our team last year, that he brought to our pitching staff last year."

When Vázquez reflects on last season, he thinks a lot of it was mental. He wanted to live up to his contract.

"I need to carry this team on my shoulders," Vázquez said he thought to himself at the beginning of last season. "I don't need that. I have a team that does it together. I was trying to do it by myself. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself. It's a new year and I feel very good."

Baldelli has pushed back on the idea of Vázquez being labeled as the backup catcher. There were certain scenarios, the manager says, where Vázquez would've played in the postseason last year whether it was a start or a late-game replacement.

Still, the Twins know they have a motivated veteran catcher entering the upcoming season.

"He's a good adjustment-maker," Baldelli said. "He's a smart baseball guy, and he likes to work. You have to bet on people like that in our game, and I'm going to bet on him."