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Twins' young guns impress
10/07/2004 10:49 PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The notion that young people should be seen, and not heard, has never caught on within the Twins organization.

Not in Spring Training. Not in the regular season. Not even in the postseason.

If Minnesota has a talented young player on its 25-man roster, it likely has a role for him. When a player is promoted, he doesn't spend time on the bench waiting for a turn. He's plugged right into the lineup to contribute.

"I think that's the exciting part about being with this organization," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We have developed good players and we use them."

Because of that mode of thinking, Johan Santana became a 20-game winner, Torii Hunter a three-time Gold Glove winner and Lew Ford the team leader this season with 154 games played after starting the season in the minors.

Facts machine
Seven Twins rookies made their Major League debut this season -- Joe Mauer, Jesse Crain, Jason Bartlett, Matt Guerrier, Jason Kubel, J.D. Durbin and Terry Tiffee.

Most importantly, that philosophy has helped make the Twins three-time American League Central division winners despite a relatively high turnover rate.

"We bring them up, let them get some at-bats, send them down, and they get a feel for it," Gardenhire said. "Then when you get in a situation where you get people hurt ... then guys like [Ford] are prepared to step in, so it's a good situation."

And now players like Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Ford, rookie outfielder Jason Kubel and rookie reliever Jesse Crain can already be considered playoff veterans -- in their early- and mid-20s.

"It's an excellent opportunity for them to see exactly what playoff baseball is all about," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "Especially playing the Yankees in their ballpark the first two games."

Morneau, 23, played first base and batted cleanup in both American League Division Series games vs. the Yankees. In Game 1, he went 0-for-4 and didn't hit a ball out of the infield. The power-hitter admitted to feeling the adrenaline at the plate.

"I think I got that out of the way my first game. In the first game, I had a little too much going probably," Morneau said.

It was a different story in Game 2. Morneau had two run-scoring hits, including a big eighth-inning RBI single off superstar Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

"I kind of settled in that second game," Morneau said.

Like Ford and Crain, Morneau's season began at Triple-A Rochester. But when Doug Mientkiewicz was hurt at the All-Star break, the Canadian was promoted and took over at first base. Mientkiewicz was traded two weeks later.

Morneau slugged 19 homers in 74 games for Minnesota.

"We won the division and I felt like I actually had something to do with it this year instead of just watching like I did last year," Morneau said. "A lot of people said it was putting pressure on me when they made that move. But it was the opposite. Once that trade happened, I came in knowing I was playing every day."

Kubel, 22, was the designated hitter in Wednesday's Game 2, but went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts.

"It was fun but pretty nerve-wracking," said Kubel, who earned his first big league callup from Triple-A Rochester on Aug. 31 in time to be eligible for the playoffs. "Hopefully, next time I can do a little better. I wish I could have contributed."

Cuddyer was called up by the Twins in 2002 just in time to be eligible for the postseason roster. In that year's ALDS vs. Oakland, he batted .385 while starting in right field. This year at New York, he started both games at second base in place of an injured Luis Rivas.

Cuddyer went 4-for-8 (.500) through the two games and is now a career .367 hitter in postseason play.

"There is no fear," Cuddyer said. "I am just going out there and trying to contribute. When playoffs start, all egos go out the door. You just look to do anything you can to help the team win."

And while focused on winning in the postseason in the present, the young players' experience can likely yield long-term developmental benefits for the club.

"Nothing but good can come out of this," Ryan said. "You have to take the moment at hand and respond because you don't know how often you'll come back. They've been able to play and experience this at a young age, which is a tremendous feeling to go through. There isn't anything better than playoff baseball."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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