07/12/2003 8:22 PM ET
Twins prospects are an odd couple
Futures Game players Joe Mauer and J.D. Durbin get into the action at FanFest: 56K | 300K
By Jonathon Mayo / MLB.com
Joe Mauer and J.D. Durbin discuss their Futures Game selection
CHICAGO -- Joe Mauer and J.D. Durbin are kind of like the Odd Couple of the Minnesota Twins organization.
Mauer, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 draft, is a very even-keeled catcher, a Minnesota native playing for his hometown team. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he's just growing into his large frame.
Durbin, taken in round two of the 2000 draft, is a firecracker, listed at 6 feet, but armed with the personality and fastball of a towering ace.
With all of the obvious differences between Mauer and Durbin, they share one thing in common: They are very, very good. Both are in Chicago representing the Twins in this year's Futures Game.
"I'm glad they're getting this type of exposure," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "They're two of our better minor league players, there's no question of that. I'm glad they're getting the opportunity to go to Chicago."
That they're here together is extremely fitting. The two have become almost inseparable since playing together for Elizabethton in the Appalachian League in 2001. They've moved up the ladder together, to Quad City in the Midwest League in 2002 and Ft. Myers in the Florida State League at the start of this season.
When they recently got the call to move up to Double-A New Britain, it was clear the Twins had a master plan. They even told Durbin and Mauer they would try to keep them together through their climb up the organizational ladder.
"It's great," Durbin said. "Hopefully, we'll both make it (to the big leagues) mid-year next year maybe."
The Twins certainly wouldn't complain if that scenario played out, and it's clear the two would feel much more comfortable if they arrive in tandem. The battery of the future even lives together now, and their familiarity is obvious. It was particularly evident as they toured FanFest here on Saturday as part of MLB.com's Access Baseball.
It began with an interview on MLB.com Radio, taking questions from fans about whom their favorite players are (Mauer picked Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek growing up and Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra now). Durbin, an Arizona native, chose Roger Clemens, admiring his work ethic. More contrasts for these unlikely close friends, but the bond became clearer when they spoke about their own friendship.
"It's nice holding on to relationships," Durbin said. "We're pretty close. A pitcher-catcher relationship has to be pretty tight."
"Its been a lot of fun for me," Mauer said. "I like traveling, playing in a lot of different parks, different atmospheres. And I've been able to do it with J.D. the last three years."
It wasn't all rosy when the pair, kind of the tall and short of the Twins organization (Durbin complained about having to talk to Mauer when he comes out to the mound), headed over to the This Week in Baseball Fantasy Broadcast Booths. First, they couldn't agree on which great moment in baseball to call.
"Come on, Mauer, make a decision," Durbin chided. "You call the signs."
"You're going to talk the most," Mauer replied.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Durbin asked with a smile.
In the end, they chose Nolan Ryan's seventh no-hitter. Upon completion of their broadcast debut, Mauer mutterrd that the pair better make it in baseball.
Or maybe in video games. The folks at EA Sports built Mauer and Durbin into their recent baseball game, and in an odd twist, the duo faced off in a home run-hitting contest. The winner didn't exactly mirror what would likely happen in reality.
"Winner! The pitcher wins it," Durbin exulted.
The final stops were the simulation pitching and hitting games. Durbin faced a video version of Derek Jeter and struck him out swinging. Of course that wasn't all that exciting for the right-hander, who actually retired the real Bernie Williams three times when the Yankee center fielder was on a recent rehab assignment.
Mauer was a little more proud of his accomplishment, getting Ken Griffey Jr. looking when he dropped down with a little sidearm action. Both then went on to take some cuts, Mauer connecting against Greg Maddux and Durbin swinging and missing against Randy Johnson.
Of course, their future lies behind the plate and on the mound. Mauer has hit at every level he's played, and Double-A is no different. After hitting .335 in the FSL, he's now up to .337 in the Eastern League. He hit his first Double-A homer on Friday, and few doubt that power will eventually come for the 19-year-old. Durbin is only 21, still young for this level. He won 13 games a year ago with Quad City and is 10-4 combined this year, after starting out 9-2 with Ft. Myers.
And now both are here, hopefully just the first of many times the Twins tandem will be recognized and rewarded. And if Mauer and Durbin have anything to say about it, it will undoubtedly be together.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.