March 9, 2004

The Twins take over

I think I've figured out a pattern over at Every other year, they devote a day's worth of feature articles to the Minnesota Twins.

Back in 2002, ran a whole smorgasbord of Twins articles in the middle of September. I even wrote about it. The Twins were on the cover of ESPN The Magazine and there were feature articles on "The Contraction Kids," the "League of Nations Infield," A.J Pierzynski and the Metrodome.

Then they skipped 2003 altogether.

And then yesterday it was the Twins' time to shine again.'s front page featured multiple articles about the Twins, all under a big picture of Joe Mauer. I was really surprised to see it. Of course, when I checked back a few hours later, the Twins stuff was no longer on the front page, having been replaced by's 1,458,935th attempt at predicting the NCAA basketball tournament bracket.

After reading through all the Twins-related stuff on, I thought it might be interesting to go through it all and point out some of the more interesting parts.

Let's start with Peter Gammons' feature on Joe Mauer, entitled: "The Cornerstone."

The Great Gammo's opening paragraph:

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He is this spring's man to see. Or in this case since Joe Mauer doesn't turn 21 until April 18, the phenom. There are other rookies around Florida who have already opened eyes -- Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore, Dodger masher James Loney, Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels -- but none of them have stirred the spring conversation as much as the Twins catcher.

I know some people have problems with the way Gammons writes, but I have always been a huge fan. I mean, that's just good writing.

By the way, for those of you wondering, Sizemore, Loney and Hamels all make my Top 50 Prospects list for 2004, which is going public first thing Monday morning. And that Mauer kid is on the list somewhere too.

One assistant general manager smiled and said, "Mauer goes way beyond 'very impressive.' He's a star in the making." Two days later, another club's executive said, "it's hard to believe that we have two potential Hall of Famers in Mauer and Miguel Cabrera and they aren't old enough to buy beer." Actually, Cabrera will turn 21 one day before Mauer.

Whenever I see these "one assistant general manager says" quotes that appear all the time in columns written by all sorts of people, I start to wonder about them. I mean, what if the assistant general manager quoted there is actually Wayne Krivsky, the Twins' assistant GM? And what if the "another club's executive" who talks about Mauer and then brings up Miguel Cabrera is the GM of the Marlins or something?

I wonder why exactly Gammons couldn't put names on the quotes. It's not as if what they said is shocking or secretive. Plus, he quotes plenty of front office types by name all the time.

Joe Mauer is, indeed, special. He receives the ball like a Bob Boone, with great presentation and hands so soft he looks as if he could catch an egg thrown 90 miles an hour. He has a rocket arm (throwing out more than 50 percent of runners in the minors), but more important, for a 6-foot-4, 225-pound man, he has exceptionally quick feet, especially getting himself into position to throw.

I have seen Mauer play (he used to kick my high school's butt all the time), but I am really looking forward to seeing how he handles a major league pitching-staff on a regular basis. As good as his offense in the minors has been, the thing that most people who have watched him a lot rave about more than anything is his defense.

Having lost Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins and traded Pierzynski and Eric Milton, the Twins are in a transition using their very deep farm system. They have lost some talent, and with their revenues will lose more, but one thing is clear: for the next six to 10 years, they have a foundation, and that foundation is named Joe Mauer.

Sounds like Peter is already planning Mauer's exit. Does that mean he'll be signing with the Yankees in 2015? Perhaps by then we'll have a new ballpark and a few more AL Central division titles to hang in it. I'm looking forward to the Mauer-Santana battery for the next decade or so, that's for sure.

Okay, enough with the Gammons article. It's definitely worth reading in its entirety. Now let's move to Sean McAdam's "Twins peaks, valleys" article:

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Over the winter, the Minnesota Twins lost their two most important relievers to free agency and were forced to deal their best left-handed starter and starting catcher.

Oh, boy. For future reference, the above quote is a good way to get me on your bad side by using just one sentence. They "were forced to deal their best left-handed starter"? Unless the news somehow made it past me, Johan Santana is still in Minnesota.

Oh, I see, McAdam is referring to Eric Milton.

Here's the problem with that: Over the last two seasons, Johan Santana made 31 starts for the Twins. He went 18-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 185 innings. In 2003 alone, Santana was 11-2 with a 2.86 ERA in 18 starts.

And Eric Milton? Well, Eric Milton pitched a grand-total of 17 innings last year. In 2002, he was 13-9 with a 4.84 ERA in 171 innings.

I understand the need to make Minnesota's story interesting to the reader, but let's not get crazy here! I'm willing to pretend I never read that if McAdam promises not to bring it up again, so let's just move on...

Finding someone to take the important innings once pitched by setup man LaTroy Hawkins and closer Eddie Guardado won't be easy. Nor will it be simple to replace Eric Milton in the rotation or A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate.

Yes, certainly those 17 innings from Milton were crucial to Minnesota's division title last season. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Let's move a little further down in the article:

But [Twins GM Terry] Ryan dismisses out of hand the suggestion that the Twins have to pick and choose when to go for [the playoffs] and when to hang back and re-stock their team in anticipation of another window.

"It doesn't have to be like that," insists Ryan.

I agree 100% with Terry Ryan on this. There is absolutely no reason that a well-run ballclub in a bad division cannot consistently challenge for the post-season year after year. It won't be easy, but it is very doable. The key is knowing when to cut an expensive veteran loose and knowing which young players to rely on. Whether or not the Twins will be able to do it is, of course, an entirely different issue.

Ryan says it much better than I could:

"We're hoping to maintain," Ryan said. "Look at Oakland -- people thought they were going to disintegrate (after losing the likes of Jason Giambi), but they haven't. They've found a way (to reach the postseason four times in succession). We need our player-development people and our scouts to come through for us."

I'm fairly confident that 2004 will be Oakland's fifth straight trip to the playoffs. They obviously haven't had much success once they get there, but they are an example of a small-market team with sustained success.

I think the Twins can certainly follow suit and they actually have an easier time than Oakland, thanks to a much weaker division.

Next let's move on to Ed McGregor's piece on Joe Mauer from ESPN The Magazine. It is, in my opinion, the best of all these Twins-related ESPN articles.

Here's how it starts:

Joe Mauer slips through the netting and into the makeshift batting cage. Wearing a blue T-shirt, a pair of shorts and black Nikes, he sets up in an imaginary batter's box, cocks his black bat and locks in. Crack. There it is, the reason for all the fuss. Crack. Again and again. Each pure and powerful lefthanded stroke produces a startling sound that ricochets off the walls like a shotgun blast.


After uncoiling the last of what Molitor has called "one of the best swings I've ever seen," Joe steps out of the cage for his older brother, Jake. An infielder and fellow Twins farmhand, Jake was selected 676 spots behind top pick Joe in the 2001 draft. Stretching nearby is middle brother Bill, a righthanded pitcher and, believe it or not, another baby Twin. They all live together in Joe's condo in Fort Myers, Fla.

That's just an awesome opening paragraph by McGregor, whom I don't think I've ever read before.

Joe's brother Jake might have a future as the next Denny Hocking in a few years if he's lucky, but it's still a nice story. I don't know a whole lot about Bill at this point, but I guess it's not out of the question that the Mauer family could provide the Twins with 12% of their team in a few years, which would be interesting.

All three Mauer boys honed their swings with a device their father built to let them practice year-round, in the yard during the summer and in the basement during the Minnesota winter. He mounted PVC pipe on a pole held at the base by a coffee can full of cement. The idea was to feed a ball into the top of the sideways V-shaped pipe, then hit it as it dropped out the bottom. When the end of the pipe was turned straight down, the hitter couldn't see the ball until the last millisecond and had to rely on pure hand-eye coordination. "I loved hitting off that thing," says Joe.

You know, the Mauer family obviously has some serious athleticism, but there's something to be said for the role environment plays in an athlete's development. For instance, I was an only child and, like the Mauer boys, lived in St. Paul. While they were hitting all day and all night under their dad's supervision, I played catch in the front yard with my mom, until I started throwing too hard and she wouldn't play any more.

If I were born into the Mauer family, even with the genetics I have now, would I have turned into a good baseball player? Who knows, it might just have made the article read a little different...

"After Joe, Jake and Bill warmed up, their brother Aaron, the blacksheep of the family, fetched Gatorade for them."

Father Jake and his cousin, Jim, now sell a professional model of the homemade contraption for $79.95, at Each order comes with a slick video featuring Molitor explaining how it can help players of all ages develop a compact swing. But it's Joe's picture on the front of the box.

I've seen a commercial for that product and I believe Joe Mauer has a chance to be this generation's Fred McGriff. No, I'm not talking about his hitting, I'm talking about his ability to show up on infomercials on ESPN2 at 2:30 in the morning for the next 20 years.

The quotes I've used here are just a small part of McGregor's lengthy piece and I highly recommend reading the entire article.

ESPN's "One Day Only!" coverage of the Twins also included a column by Rob Neyer and another article looking at the Twins from a fantasy baseball perspective. Unfortunately, Neyer shifts his attention from the Twins to the Red Sox about 50 words into his piece and the fantasy article makes the same mistake I complained about here last month:

2004 TWINS

Possible Rotation

1. Johan Santana, LHP

2. Brad Radke, RHP

3. Joe Mays, RHP

4. Kyle Lohse, RHP

5. Grant Balfour, RHP


Their rotation can only get better as Santana, Mays and Lohse have another year under their belt.

For anyone who missed my frustrated rant on the subject a couple weeks ago, Joe Mays had Tommy John surgery and is out for most, if not all, of the 2004 season.

This is now about the 100th place I've seen Mays included in the starting rotation, so it's become less frustrating and more a form of entertainment and a hobby for me.

That's it for today, thanks for stopping by. And remember Twins fans, in another 15-20 months, there will be a whole net set of Twins articles for you to read on!

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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