05/22/2002 2:40 pm ET
Joe Mauer: One year later
Last year's top pick is still on track to Majors
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- One year after making catcher Joe Mauer the No. 1 overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft, the Minnesota Twins remain convinced that they have the right man.
Mauer signed a multi-million dollar contract with the Twins last summer and went straight to the organization's rookie-level affiliate, Elizabethton, in the Appalachian League. This year, he's stationed at Class-A Quad City of the Midwest League, playing alongside his older brother (and infielder) Jake, a 23rd-round pick in the same draft.
The 19-year-old St. Paul, Minn. native is still making the transition from being an "all-everything" three-sport standout at Cretin-Derham Hall High School to professional baseball player. But so far, Twins Minor League Director Jim Rantz is satisfied with the progress he's seen in Mauer.
"Him being in the instructional league helped us make that transition a little easier since he's gone every day to the wooden bat," Rantz said. "It's the everyday playing that he has to make an adjustment to, which he is. It's also getting to know the pitching staff. The pitchers are throwing harder than he's used to. He's adjusted well, but he just needs experience."
Last season, Mauer batted .400 (44-for-110) at Elizabethton and was the Twins' Minor League Player of the Month in August. Baseball America named him the top prospect in the Appalachian League and the top catching prospect in the minor leagues.
At Quad City, Mauer was hitting .311 with two homers and 20 RBIs over his first 132 at-bats. According to Rantz, no one was expecting him to deliver power numbers immediately.
"He will some day," Rantz said. "Right now, he's driving the ball and getting the gap type of hits. It's just a young player needing to get playing time. Offensively, we all like his swing, his size, and his strength. He's going to get stronger. He's learning how to cope with calling a game, knowing his pitching staff. It's a long season and it's an everyday grind for an everyday ballplayer."
For someone used to having astronomical baseball numbers, Mauer also isn't fretting about his current statistics.
"You're not going to come here and hit .500," Mauer said by phone from Quad City's stadium in Davenport, Iowa. "If you do, you probably should be moving up a lot quicker. It's going to happen -- you're going to go 0-for-20 sometimes. It's just part of the game. It's a lot better competition."
Sometimes you come across guys who feel they have to prove something to you. It's just part of the game. You just have to play through those things."
It doesn't make it any easier when everybody on the opposition knows who you are and when you were drafted.
"Being the No. 1 pick in the country tends to have everyone bear down on you at the plate," Rantz said. "They try to pitch him tough."
Mauer has noticed that other players are gunning for him but doesn't seem to mind.
"Sometimes you come across guys who feel they have to prove something to you," Mauer said. "It's just part of the game. You just have to play through those things."
The Twins don't appear to be in a rush to get Mauer into the Major Leagues. But they did give him a small taste of big-league life by inviting him to Spring Training as a non-roster player. The experience proved invaluable.
"I've got some great teachers to learn from," Mauer said. "I got to spend time with (Twins catcher) Tom Prince in Spring Training and veterans like (Hall of Fame outfielder) Kirby Puckett. It's great for me to learn from them.
"They taught me a lot of little things to do that I might not have learned in high school. Pro ball is a lot different from either college or high school."
While Mauer continues to learn the pro game, Rantz and the Twins have no regrets about taking him with the top pick.
"We're happy he's with the Twins because he's a heck of an athlete," Rantz said. "We're glad that he's in the fold. He'll make progress. He just turned 19. So, he's settling in."
Mauer was also pursued by college football powerhouses, and was potentially headed to play quarterback at Florida State. However, he's happy he chose baseball and is encouraged by his own progress.
"I'm having a good time," Mauer said. "This is what I always wanted to do and now I'm getting a chance to do it. When it's all said and done, hopefully I'll be up in Minnesota and playing for them for years."
Mark Sheldon covers the Twins for MLB.com and can be reached at
email@example.com. This article was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
"Sometimes you come across guys who feel they have to prove something to you. It's just part of the game. You just have to play through those things."
-- Joe Mauer