FORT MYERS, FLA. – Ben Rortvedt was the 56th overall selection, a Twins' second-rounder in 2016, as a high school catcher from Verona, Wis. This was the last draft conducted by the Terry Ryan regime and there still was an organizational appreciation for a lefthanded swing that favored the left-center gap.
Rortvedt's hitting numbers had remained subpar in 2019, his third full pro season, producing seven home runs, 29 RBI and a .239 average combined at Class A Fort Myers and Class AA Pensacola.
The Twins had a new plan of attack for Rortvedt when he came to spring training as an invitee for the second time in 2020.
"They wanted me to go more to the pull side, get the ball in the air to right field, hit for more power,'' Rortvedt said. "That's what I was working on and then I pulled an oblique. I didn't get in an exhibition game before the pandemic took over.
"We sat around for one day, and then the Twins said, 'We're closing down. Pack up your stuff and go home.' "
Rortvedt had arrived in his Grand Cherokee, and headed back home to Verona in the same. There would be no minor league play last season, which was not exactly the preferred formula for a still-young hitter working on a swing change.
Once the oblique was doing well, Rortvedt worked out in the gym he has at home, hit the weight room and spent time in batting cages.
"I was trying to be ready in case I got the call, but it never came,'' he said.
The call would have been to report to CHS Field in St. Paul, where the Twins' reserve squad was conducting workouts as potential reinforcements during the COVID-caused mini-season.
The Derek Falvey brain trust, with no evidence either way on the swing change, decided on Nov. 21 to add Rortvedt to the 40-player big-league roster. This prevented him from being taken by a catcher-depleted club in December's Rule 5 draft.
Second-round catchers are too valuable to be allowed to walk away before full evaluation, even if there's another 23-year-old second-rounder who made the cut for the St. Paul squad last July, and debuted for the Twins on Aug. 20.
Ryan Jeffers was selected 59th overall in 2018 out of UNC-Wilmington. He's more a modern prototype for a catcher, at 6-4, 235 pounds, than Rortvedt, with more a Kurt Suzuki frame and listed at 5-10, 205 pounds.
As Jeffers was starting both playoff losses to Houston at the end of September, Rortvedt was home in Wisconsin trying to find the positive in a baseball year in which he did not get an official at-bat.
"It was a chance to step back and reset, to realize getting more power in my game was a necessity, and so was improvement with my game-calling,'' Rortvedt said.
"As a catcher, I'm mobile, I have a strong arm, I'm good on pitches in the dirt. What the Twins mention most is that they want to see more with my game-calling.''
Rortvedt mentioned "slowing the game down,'' not in reality but in his thinking. There's a lot of information being thrown at catchers in 2021, but avoid the cluttered mind and make a decision … that seems to be the message.
Jeffers and Rortvedt were teammates in the minors in both 2018 and 2019. Friends?
"Of course,'' Rortvedt said. "Catchers are together all the time. The drills, the bullpens … catching is definitely a fraternity. Other players can talk about it, have opinions on it, but being in on every pitch, getting beat up back there; you have to experience catching to understand it.''
Rortvedt followed Mitch Garver as the Twins' second catcher on Wednesday. The bases were loaded with no outs against a Boston pitcher named Seth Blair. Rortvedt managed an RBI bounce-out to second on an 0-2 count, and then Nelson Cruz followed with a three-run bomb to left-center.
No double play on the bouncer. An RBI for Rortvedt and an extra RBI for Nellie. It wasn't exactly a triumph for Rortvedt's swing change, but it did put him in the midst of a rally for the first time since 2019.