Tuesday, May 20, 2008
On name recognition alone, the Minnesota Twins have one of the more impressive and young middle-of-the-order trios in all of baseball.
Between them, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Delmon Young are the kind of high-profile talents that most teams would love to build their lineups around for the foreseeable future.
However there is one glaring issue that hangs over their heads like a long Minnesota winter. And that is a near total lack of power.
We'll excuse Morneau from this discussion as he's proven he can provide the pop necessary to drive in runs and drive the ball over the fence. But for Mauer and Young the outlook is not quite as bright.
Both were number one overall picks in their respective draft classes (2001 and 2003) and both have "projectable" power in their bats. At least that's what scouts will tell you and what Twins fans hope is true.
However a look at their track records point to something entirely different and startlingly familiar if you've followed the Twins so far in 2008.
We'll start with Mauer, or Baby Jesus as we like to call him. Ever since eschewing a chance to play football at Florida State, Mauer has been the darling of his home state organization. A big time athlete at the game's premium position, Mauer was said to have all the tools to do for catchers what Cal Ripken Jr. did for shortstops.
Always able to put the bat on the ball and possessing a sweet lefty stroke, most observers of a young Mauer believed that like most young top-prospect position players, the power would come soon enough.
Three seasons in the minor leagues and a career minor league batting average of over .330 later, it was time to unleash Mauer on the American League. And while he has certainly established himself as one of the very best backstops in baseball, the one thing that has yet to surface is the power.
But should that be such a huge surprise?
In 1,055 minor league at-bats Mauer managed a measly nine home runs, that's one every 117 at-bats. So far in his big league career he's got 35 homers in 1,664 at-bats, or one every 47.5 at-bats.
While it's true that his big league numbers are certainly an improvement, by comparison the AL's other top catcher, Victor Martinez of Cleveland, has hit a home run once ever 29 at-bats in his big league career (curiously he has also yet to homer in 2008).
This is not to say Mauer will never find his power stroke, but it looks more and more likely every day that the guy once thought of as a rare four-tool catcher may really be more of a three-tool guy with light hitting, middle-infielder power at best.
As for Young, his lack of power is a bit more of a surprise and disappointment given his early minor league success in the home run department.
In 1,413 minor league at-bats Young swatted 59 homers, or one every 24 at-bats. It was that type of raw ability that had always attracted scouts to Young and what ultimately made him a top draft choice.
Like Mauer, Young was also a very good contact hitter in the minors, finishing his career in baseball's lower levels as a .318 hitter. Sure he struck out nearly three times as much as he drew a walk, but with his power potential it was something teams could live with.
Ever since breaking into the major leagues however Young has seen his power almost completely disappear while his strikeout to walk ratio has spiked to nearly 5-to-1.
In his defense, 940 career big league at-bats does not a career make, but even the most optimistic Twins fan has to be concerned that Young is hitting one home run every 59 at-bats in his big league career so far, 20 at-bats more than it takes noted power hitting shortstop Alex Gonzalez of the Reds to hit one.
One of two things is going to happen with Young in my opinion. Either he's going to recognize that maybe the power really isn't there and settle into a Mauer-like groove of .300-plus batting average campaigns because he has the ability to do that if he learns a bit more patience.
Or he is going to have to sell out a la Adam Dunn in an effort to hit the ball over the fence which could only exasperate his already terrible strikeout to walk ratio.
The caveat to this entire discussion however is the age of both Mauer and Young. Mauer just recently turned 25 and Young is only 22, which means a boost in power could still be in the offing for both. However a lot is going to have to change for each if they expect to fulfill their power potential.