With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Twins squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine were officially introduced in early October, they both spoke about exploring every avenue to improve the club's pitching staff.
Pitching has been a major issue for the Twins in recent years, especially in 2016, when Minnesota pitchers combined to post the second-worst ERA in the Majors en route to a 103-loss season. But instead of going out and signing a free-agent starter to bolster their staff this offseason, they took a different route, inking defensively-minded catcher Jason Castro to a three-year, $24.5 million deal.
Minnesota is hoping Castro can help turn around the pitching staff with his game-planning, game-calling and pitch-framing skills. The 29-year-old was part of a successful rebuilding effort in Houston, and the Twins believe he's suited to help develop Minnesota's staff.
"The whole idea of signing Jason Castro, a lot of it was measured on the impact of catching on a staff," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "As we've learned more about how to quantify that, it's probably been a little bit of an undervalued position for guys that handle some of those types of things better than others. We thought that was a big piece in trying to at least start off a way of trying to figure out a way to pitch better."
One of Castro's greatest strengths is pitch framing, as he ranked fifth-best in the Majors in 2016 with 12.8 runs above average, according to statcorner.com. It's a big upgrade from last year's starting catcher, Kurt Suzuki, who rated five runs below average.
"The goal at the end of the day is to try to help your pitcher keep as many strikes as possible," Castro said. "And to not do anything to take away from presenting pitches that are in the strike zone to the umpires that would lead them to believe that any given pitch is not a strike."
But there's more to helping the pitching staff than pitch framing, as Castro excels in getting his pitchers prepared and working with them throughout their start. He should also help the Twins improve at controlling the running game, as he threw out 24 percent of attempted basestealers last year, compared to Suzuki's 19 percent.
"Jason provides a lot more value than [pitch-framing]," Falvey said. "There's the game planning and game calling. We thought Jason was one of the best at that. We're excited about seeing that play out and seeing Jason's role in helping develop our pitching."
And that's not to mention Castro's leadership skills, which Falvey lauded him for, as the Twins have been looking to improve their clubhouse chemistry this season as well. Castro developed into a leader during his six years in Houston, and he was already able to bond with several of his new teammates at TwinsFest.
"His impact on both sides of the game, his fit for our culture, made for a perfect marriage," Falvey said. "A lot has been made about his defense, but we really look into the background of these guys. It's important for the culture of our team. He checked every box and then some."
Spring Training begins on Feb. 15, with pitchers' and catchers' workouts at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Ft. Myers, Fla. Full-squad drills get underway on Feb. 19.