With their New York-bound plane sitting on the tarmac at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport with mechanical difficulties on Sunday, Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers decided to use the opportunity to learn something.
“I was just talking to one of the flight guys who works out there, just talking about different airplanes and asking questions,” Jeffers said. “It’s just who I am.”
Jeffers uses this example to explain why, in an up-and-down season, he still feels confident he’ll be a consistently better major leaguer than he has been this season. A hunger for learning — Jeffers was a physics major in college — can only help him in that effort. And after a brief taste of the majors last season, the 2021 season has been all about learning for Jeffers.
“I’m always learning. I don’t like going into situations and not knowing or not understanding. I like to be informed, I like to learn, I like to grow,” he said. “And that’s something I’ve always done. Whether it’s hitting, whether it’s defensive, whether it’s stuff completely unrelated.”
With Mitch Garver on and off the injured list twice this year — first with a groin injury, now with back tightness — Jeffers has seen more time behind the plate this year than Garver, even with an early-season demotion back to Triple-A.
In 76 games, Jeffers has hit .202 with a .275 on-base percentage and .408 slugging percentage with 13 home runs. He turned in one of his better games of the season on Tuesday, collecting three hits, including a home run, and driving in four in a Twins win against the Cleveland Indians.
There’s more of that coming, he believes.
“Just continuing to work and continuing to grow and get better every day really is possible by staying in the lineup,” Jeffers said. “Who knows what the next couple years entail? But I want to be that guy catching 120 games, 130 games.”
However the Twins split playing time with their catchers over the course of the next couple of weeks — Garver is getting closer to making his return — this season will have proven a valuable one for Jeffers, showing him the ins and outs of what it takes to be an everyday major league catcher.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said it was one “unlike any year he’s ever played.”
“He’s going to have seen the light in some ways as to what it entails to go out there and do this job on a consistent basis at the major league level, and he’s learning to embrace it,” Baldelli said. “ … I do think the experience factor, the innings that he’s logging, the consecutive games that he’s played, there’s going to be a collective benefit for him going forward and it’s going to make him a better player.”
His willingness and desire to learn and expand his horizons — the same curiosity that led to him peppering an airport worker with questions — he believes will make him a better player.
“I know I can be one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball,” Jeffers said. “I know I can be one of the best defensive catchers in baseball."
Twins likely to miss Berrios
The Blue Jays have not named a starter for Sunday’s series finale against the Twins but it doesn’t appear it will be former Twins right-hander José Berríos, who last pitched on Tuesday.
With an off day on Thursday, Berríos, is more likely to start on Monday, as long as he’s healthy. He left Tuesday’s start after seven strong innings with what Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo called left abdominal tightness, but he is expected to make his next start.
Berríos should be in line to start against his former team next weekend in his return to Target Field. Since the July 30 trade that sent Berríos to Toronto for prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson, Berrios has posted a 3.31 earned-run average across nine starts.
The Twins will have Michael Pineda start the first game in Toronto, followed by Bailey Ober on Saturday. They have not yet listed a starter for Sunday. The Blue Jays will counter with Hyun Jin Ryu and Steven Matz in the first two games.