Herald Journal Columns
May 29, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

Mauer, or A.J.?

By Matt Kane

I don’t think any Twins fan objected to the team picking St. Paul native Joe Mauer with the first overall pick in the 2001 amateur baseball draft.

Looking back in the years that directly followed that draft, fans may have wondered if the team should have, instead, picked Mark Prior out of the University of Southern California because he was already pitching for the Chicago Cubs, while Mauer was still learning the game of baseball and sharpening his skills in the Twins’ minor league system.

Any baseball fan who lives in a major league market knows the local team could not let a top prospect from its own area get away, and the same holds true of Mauer and the Twins.

You can’t tell me that if Dave Winfield would have survived the first 10 picks of the 1973 draft, the Twins would have skipped over him to select left-handed pitcher Eddie Bane, out of Arizona State. Winfield, though, didn’t survive four picks and was selected fourth overall by the San Diego Padres, leaving the Twins with Bane.

The same with Paul Molitor (1977, third overall to Brewers). Fellow St. Paul resident Jack Morris, however, did get away from the Twins, who selected pitcher/third baseman Jamie Allen with the 10th pick in the 1976 draft. You can hardly fault the Twins for that miss, though. Apparently, none of the 28 teams at the time saw much in Morris, as he fell to the Detroit Tigers in the 17th round.

So, drafting Mauer was a wise move for the Twins, for the simple reason of covering their backside. And look where Prior is now — on the disabled list, the fifth time he has been there since 2001.

Looking back today, the argument could be made that the Twins should have selected Mark Teixeira, out of Georgia Tech. Teixeira was selected fifth overall by the Texas Rangers, and in three full seasons in the majors has averaged 38 home runs and 122 RBI per season.

Still, Minnesotan’s love their hometown boys maybe more than any other sports town, and are already proud of what Mauer has done.

Kent Hrbek and Neal Broten were slightly above average players, statistics-wise, but are sports icons in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Teixeira would have been a nice player at first base in the Metrodome, but, in my eyes, the biggest loss suffered by the Twins as a result of drafting Joe Mauer is that of A.J. Pierzynski.

Pierzynski hit .312 with 11 home runs and 74 RBI in 2003, his final season with the Twins, and, maybe more importantly, was the backbone of the 2002 and 2003 Central Division championship teams.

But with Mauer ready to start the 2004 season with the big league club in Minneapolis, Pierzynski was no longer needed and was dealt to the San Francisco Giants.

In recent weeks, especially with the way Francisco Liriano has been pitching, people are saying what a good deal the Pierzynski trade was for the Twins.

Liriano was a throw-in in the deal which brought Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser to the Twins.

Getting three good arms for one catcher is a good trade in most books, but so far Nathan is the only one of the three pitchers who has truly proven he is a star in this league.

Liriano has all the hype surrounding him, but has made just two starts through last weekend. And Bonser was just called up earlier this month.

While Nathan helped the 2004 edition of the Twins get to the postseason for the third straight season, Pierzynski, after one season with the Giants, helped the rival White Sox win their first World Series title since 1917. The Twins didn’t even make the playoffs last season.

Baseball is a game of statistics, and Mauer’s .294 batting average was 37 points better than Pierzyn-ski’s .257, but the ultimate statistic is a “1.” As in “1” World Series ring.

I’m still not going to say I would prefer A.J. over Mauer, but I do miss the fiery attitude Pierzynski used to bring to the field while wearing a Twins uniform.

As for Mauer, I’ve seen more personality in a cardboard box.

Pierzynski is one-up on Mauer in at least one more category — he can take a punch.

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