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Undrafted to Fan Favorite: The Meteoric Rise of Ryan Jeffers


Ryan Jeffers chatting with an umpire

The man you see above chatting it up with the umpire is Ryan Jeffers. Jeffers is the current starting catcher for the 2024 Minnesota Twins and is having the best season of his young career. Jeffers currently has a slash line of .237/.326/.500 and a weight runs created plus (WRC+) of 151 at catcher which ranks second best in all of baseball. How did he get here though? Through this article, we're going to learn how one of the league's best young catchers came through adversity and setbacks to become the player he is today.


High School and College Times


Jeffers attended Sanderson High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, He played baseball there for his whole high school career but broke out his senior season hitting at a .472 batting average with 7 extra-base hits. He would enter the 2016 draft after the season but failed to be drafted by any team. While this would be a major confidence killer for a lot of young players, Jeffers used this to motivate himself to work even harder for his dream.

Jeffers chases down a flyball.

In late 2016, Jeffers enrolled at UNC Wilmington before becoming a walk-on for their baseball team. Jeffers didn't have much of a freshman season, only appearing in 13 games, but he showed out for them in all 13 posting an OPS of 1.076 and collecting 4 extra-base hits in only 23 at-bats. He used this great play from his freshman season to become UNC Wilmington's starting catcher in his sophomore season.


His play only continued to improve in his increased amount of plate appearances with him hitting 10 home runs and earning himself All-CAA first-team honors. His junior season was very similar to his sophomore. He increased his home run total to 16 and once again was selected to the All-CAA first team. After another stellar season, Jeffers officially declared for the 2018 MLB Draft.


The Draft and The Minors


Jeffers was pretty overlooked in every pre-draft big board. No one had him within their top 200 prospects likely due to his age and his somewhat concerning strikeout issues. This scared off many teams but not the Minnesota Twins. The Twins took a chance on him and drafted Jeffers with the 59th pick. While it was considered a reach at the time, the Minnesota Twins scouting department liked Jeffers enough to want to make him the catcher of the future.

Jeffers taking an at-bat in Cedar Rapids

Jeffers would begin his minor-league career with the Elizabethton Twins but would be quickly promoted to the Cedar Rapids Kernels after a stellar stretch in rookie ball. He would stay there for the remainder of the 2018 season finishing with a .946 OPS and 7 home runs between rookie ball and A ball that season. He would begin the 2019 season in A+ with the Fort Myers Miracle. Jeffers played amazingly earning himself a Florida State League all-star selection and being promoted to AA. He would improve in AA and stayed there until the end of the 2019 season. He earned a 2020 spring training invite and would play well before everything suddenly stopped.


Jeffers was one of many minor-league players affected by the pandemic. Jeffers never got the chance to continue to develop in AAA because of the minor-league shutdown for the 2020 season. Even with all the hard times of 2020, on August 20th, Jeffers got the call almost all prospects are dying to hear. He was called up to the Major Leagues.


The MLB


Jeffers's debut game was a dream come true. He managed to record two hits and one RBI helping the Twins get a 7-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. He would continue to perform pretty well for the 2020 squad posting a slash line of .273/.355/.436. The league wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for Jeffers though as 2021 and 2022 were pretty bad years for him. In these two years as the backup catcher for the Twins, Jeffers would struggle at the plate a lot. 4


His hitting was not adjusting to major league pitching as he would be sent down to AAA fairly often. His power hadn't gone away as he hit 14 HRs in 2021 but he held a strikeout percentage of around 31% in these years. Heading into 2023, the Twins would bring in veteran catcher Christian Vazquez on a 3-year deal and Jeffers would remain the backup. 2023 was his last chance to prove himself and to say he did that would be an understatement.


Ryan Jeffers celebrates a huge home run.

In 2023, of batters with at least 300 plate appearances, Jeffers ranked 15th in WRC+ with 138. Among catchers, this was tied for 1st with Mitch Garver who spent time between DH and C just like Jeffers. It's almost like Jeffers flipped the same switch in his brain that he flipped back at UNC Wilmington. Jeffers played so well that he stole the starting job from Vazquez and never looked back. He had overcome the great odds against him being successful in this league.


Now in 2024, Jeffers is one of the league's top talents at catcher leading the Twins lineup even while they were in a slump. At only 27 years old, Jeffers has plenty of gas left in the tank as he continues to build his career with the Twins. Jeffers's journey is a great story of overcoming adversity even while you have many doubting you and your abilities in this league and should show other young players how determination and perseverance can make your dreams come true.


 

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