Rookie Catcher of the Year (Baseball Digest) 2004
|Full Name: Joe Mauer
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Height: 6-4 Weight: 220 lbs.
Born: Apr 19, 1983 in St. Paul, MN
Major League Debut: ?
|CAREER BATTING STATISTICS|
|CAREER FIELDING STATISTICS|
High-riding Minnesota made local schoolboy hero Joe Mauer the No. 1 pick in the draft
By Stephen Cannella
Joe Mauer still can't say which sport is his first love. "Whatever I'm playing at the time," he said last Saturday, four days after the Twins had made the 18-year-old catcher from Cretin-Derham Hall High in St. Paul the first pick in the draft. On Saturday evening Mauer, who also has a football scholarship at Florida State next fall, was honored at the National Quarterback Club banquet in Minneapolis as the nation's top high school passer. "In the fall it's football," he said. "In the winter it's basketball. I guess right now I would say baseball is my favorite."
The Twins hope he'll still feel that way when the leaves begin to turn, but for now even that uncertainty doesn't dampen their astonishing revival this season. After losing 93 games in 2000, the club was 17 games over .500 at week's end and trailed the first-place Indians by only a half game in the American League Central. Attendance at the Metrodome, which was the lowest in the American League in four of the past six seasons, was nearly 60% above last year's draw, averaging 22,506 after 34 home dates.
Then the Twins generated additional buzz by drafting an enormously talented teenager who grew up a long fly ball from the stadium. "This is all a surprise, a pleasant surprise, for everyone who follows this club," says general manager Terry Ryan.
Minnesota's selection of Mauer, the first catcher taken with the No. 1 pick since the Brewers selected North Carolina's B.J. Surhoff in 1985, was also a surprise. Most talent evaluators considered Southern Cal righthander Mark Prior, who was chosen second by the Cubs, the best prospect in the draft. Prior, however, won't come cheap (he couldn't begin contract negotiations until the Trojans were eliminated from or won this week's College World Series), and his reported desire for a deal worth about $18 million was one factor in Minnesota's taking Mauer.
Some observers believe the Twins can sign the catcher with a multiyear package worth around $6 million. At week's end they'd had preliminary contract talks with Mauer's parents and adviser. Mauer was preparing for the state championship, which was scheduled to begin on Thursday, and said if he does sign, it won't be until the tournament is over. (Minnesota made a not-so-subtle attempt to win over the family by drafting Mauer's older brother Jake, a second-team All-America second baseman at Division III St. Thomas in St. Paul, in the 23rd round.) "Signability comes into the equation on any player," says Ryan, who was burned when Travis Lee, the second pick in the 1996 draft, refused to sign with the Twins.
Still, Minnesota says its choice of Mauer, a consensus top 5 pick before the draft, was based on talent, not finances or p.r. They have closely followed the 6'4", 205-pound catcher for three years; Twins scouts even showed up at Mauer's football and basketball games during his senior year. In three seasons at Cretin he hit .567 and struck out only once in 208 at bats, and this year he homered in seven straight games, tying a national high school record. He has a cannon arm, firing the ball from home plate to second base in 1.9 seconds (on a par with most big league catchers), and though raw, he moves well behind the plate for someone his size.
"Lefthanded bats are a plus in our ballpark, and lefthanded-hitting catchers are hard to come by," says Ryan. "Plus, we knew more about him than any other player in the country." Ryan was also encouraged by Mauer's familiarity with the Twins. A St. Paul native whose family still lives in the house that his father, Jake, was raised in, Mauer grew up following the Minnesota teams of Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett. "I knew the Twins were thinking of taking me or Mark Prior," he says. "I was thinking it would be really cool to go with the hometown team."