Mitch Garver may believe slow and steady wins the race, but his professional baseball career has quickly gone from struggling in the rookie league to camping in the big leagues.
Garver, who was an All-State player for La Cueva High School and was consistently one of the top catchers in the nation during his time as a New Mexico Lobo, left Albuquerque on Friday to report to the Minnesota Twins’ major league spring training camp, which begins today in Fort Myers, Fla.
“It’s pretty exciting, not a lot of guys get an invite to spring training after their first two seasons, Garver said. “I don’t think I’ll be making the team but at least I can make a good impression.”
After a stellar career at UNM, Garver was a ninth-round pick by the Twins in the 2013 MLB draft. His debut season as a professional was a dud as Garver hit .243, with two home runs and 30 RBIs, in 56 games with Rookie League Elizabethton.
While at UNM, Garver was a two-time finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, which honors college baseball’s top Division I catcher, and was one of four catchers drafted by the Twins in 2013. He will be one of six catchers who will be in Minnesota’s big-league camp, including Stuart Turner who won the Johnny Bench Award and was picked in the third round in 2013.
Minnesota has the second-best farm system in baseball according to many pundits, and though Garver has yet to crack any lists of the top 20 Twins farmhands, he prefers to quietly rise through the system.
“I’ve never really been known as a prospect and I don’t think I ever will be,” Garver said. “I kind of have a reputation of flying under the radar, and it’s kind of nice not to have a target on my back, not have such high expectations. I like to undersell and overproduce. I like the idea of the tortoise and the hare and being the tortoise in the race.”
In 2014, Garver ran through Single-A pitching with Cedar Rapids, ranking sixth in the Midwest League in home runs (16), fifth in RBIs (79) and fourth in batting average (.298). His on-base plus slugging percentage of .883 ranked third and Garver was named to the MWL Postseason All-Star team.
“It’s a daily thing where you have to make adjustments,” Garver said. “That’s one thing that’s different than college, because you’re playing every day as opposed to three to five times a week. You can have a really bad day one day and the next one you’ll have a great one, and that’s something you have to learn: to let things go and once the day is over, you start focusing on the next one.”
And so much for not having high expectations placed on him.
Garver not only made adjustments last season, he also made an impression on Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan, who called Garver in early January with the news of his invite to the big-league camp in spring.
“He told me they have a lot of expectations for me,” Garver said. “I wasn’t expecting it but there’s always a slight chance after you have a good year. Being a catcher, I think it’s nice to have rookie catchers in the big league camp, so they can start picking up on things they need to improve on.
“I’m looking forward to meeting all the guys you see playing on TV and catching bullpens and learning the game at a big league level.”
Garver most likely will stay in Fort Myers after spring training to play with the High Class-A Fort Myers Miracle, where he hopes to improve on last season’s breakout performance.
“I have the same goals as I always have: I want to hit .300 and I want to make the All-Star team and I want to have a lot of RBIs,” Garver said. “I do need to improve on my defense, my catching abilities, and I want to be able to stay healthy the whole year. If I can stay healthy and put up decent numbers, good things are going to happen.”