Results tagged ‘ MVP ’
In many ways Adrian Beltre has had five distinct parts to his career: (1) Signing out of the Dominican Republic and his rapid ascension to the major leagues; (2) Inconsistency with the Dodgers; (3) MVP-caliber 2004 season and his massive contract with the Mariners; (4) Offensive struggles with the Mariners as he became a defensive stalwart; and (5) Signing with the Red Sox and offensive awakenings.
Adrian Beltre was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Dodgers in 1994 for $23,000 at the age of 15, in direct contravention of MLB rules, which require the signee to be at least 16 at the time of the signing. As a result, MLB suspended the Dodgers’ scouting operations in the Dominican Republic for a year, though they were allowed to retain Beltre.
Beltre did not make his state-side debut until 1996, when he debuted for the Savannah Sand Gnats of the South Atlantic League. As the youngest player in the league, Beltre hit 307/406/586 across 68 games, mashing 14 doubles and 16 home runs. After being promoted to the San Bernardino Stampede of the high A California League, Beltre put up a 261/322/450 line across 63 games despite being the youngest player in the league by nearly two full years (he was 12 days shy of two years younger than Dennys Reyes, the next youngest player). After the season, prospect rankers raved about his batting eye, power, and defensive potential. Baseball America ranked him the #30 prospect in baseball, between Dmitri “Da Meat Hook” Young and Mike Cameron and lauding his potential.
In 1997, Beltre spent the season with the high A Vero Beach Dodgers of the offense-suffocating Florida State League, putting up a sparkling 317/407/561 line while hitting 24 doubles and 26 home runs, stealing 25 bases, and walking more times than he struck out (67-66). After the season, Beltre was on the short list of the top prospects in baseball. His offensive upside became even more apparent, though his defensive shortcomings became more apparent. However, many felt that he would become an average defensive third baseman with elite offensive output. Baseball America ranked Beltre the #3 prospect in baseball, behind only A’s uber-prospect Ben Grieve and Dodgers 1b/3b prospect Paul Konerko, though ahead of Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood and Pirates 3b Aramis Ramirez.
In 1998, Beltre began the year with the AA San Antonio Missions of the Texas League, where the offensive onslaught continued, as Beltre hit 321/411/581 with 21 doubles, 13 home runs, and 20 stolen bases during the first 64 games of the season. Beltre showed his amazing eye and bat control with 39 walks and 37 strikeouts before being promoted to Los Angeles, where he struggled, hitting 215/278/369 as the youngest player in the Major Leagues by more than one full year (over Aramis Ramirez). Despite his struggles in the major leagues, his prospect stock did not decrease in the slightest, with many penciling Beltre into the middle of the Dodgers’ order for the next decade.
In 1999, Beltre’s first full season was much more successful than his previous, putting up a respectable 275/352/428 line (OPS+ 102) while hitting 27 doubles and 15 home runs. In 2000, Beltre had his best year yet, putting up a 290/360/475 line, as if the best was right around the corner. Unfortunately, Beltre seemingly regressed over the next three seasons, putting up a 265/310/411 line in 2001, a 257/303/426 line in 2002, and a 240/290/424 line in 2003.
In 2004, Beltre had a season that anyone trying to prove that the “contract year phenomenon” is real would love to use as an example. Beltre set career highs across the board, putting up a 334/388/629 line while hitting 32 doubles and 48 home runs, putting up an OPS+ of 163. It appeared as if Beltre finally put it all together and he came in second place in the NL MVP vote (to Barry Bonds, who walked 232 times en route to a 362/609/812 line). After the season, Beltre signed a five year contract with the Seattle Mariners for $64 million that included a $7 million signing bonus.
In Seattle, Beltre’s performance was underwhelming, particularly considering his salary. In 2005, Beltre hit 255/303/413 while struggling with hamstring issues. In 2006, Beltre hit 268/328/465, a solid season, but hardly the season the mariners wanted when they agreed to the contract. Beltre was earning is contract in other ways, as he became known as one of the best defensive third basement in the league. In 2007, Beltre hit a respectable 276/319/482 with 41 doubles and 26 home runs, while winning his first gold glove. In 2008, belter hit 266/327/457 while winning his second gold glove. In 2009, Beltre struggled to stay healthy, missing time due to inflammation and, eventually, surgery on his left shoulder to remove bone spurs, and what can only be termed a “fractured groin.”
In the off season, Beltre signed a one year contract with the Boston Red Sox for $10 million, with a $5 million player option for 2011. In Boston, everything finally seemed to click for Beltre as he put up a 321/365/553 line with a career high 49 doubles and 28 home runs, the second most of his career. Finishing ninth in the AL MVP vote, Beltre declined his 2011 option with the Red Sox and became a free agent.
The Texas Rangers signed Beltre, only 31 years old despite being having just completed his 13th season in the major leagues, to a six year contract valued at $96 million. Since the signing of the contract with the Rangers, Beltre has thrived, putting up a 296/331/561 line in 2011 while winning his third gold glove and silver slugger awards. So far in 2012, Beltre has continued putting up monster numbers, with a 320/357/561 line with 32 home runs and 30 doubles through 139 games.
So what do we make of Adrian Beltre? Is he a late bloomer who took nearly a decade to reach his potential? Did he actually figure it out in 2004, with injuries and pressure conspiring to adversely impact his performance? More importantly, what can we learn from Adrian Beltre? Are there other players who would benefit from extra time to figure it out? Was he rushed to the major leagues because the Dodgers were starting Bobby Bonilla at third base at the time?
The short answer is that Beltre was a tremendous talent who forced his way to the major leagues by absolutely destroying the ball, and a combination of injuries and the incredible amount of talent at the major league level made it difficult for Beltre to succeed.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
One of the most entertaining, irreverent, talented, and controversial (in a good way!) players in major league baseball today is
Florida Miami Marlins left fielder Logan Morrison, or, as he’s known to his twitter followers, LoMo. Morrison was a star baseball player during his time at Northshore High School in Slidell, Louisiana, from which he graduated in 2005, but he did not grow up in Louisiana nor is his tale to the majors a typical one.
Justin Logan Morrison was born in Kansas City, Missouri, though he lived all over the country, moving with his parents due to his father’s employment with the United States Coast Guard. Morrison lived in Kansas City, Missouri and Wilmington, North Carolina, among other places, but his heart was always in KC. When his father, Tom, was transferred to New Orleans when Logan was 16, Tom had to break his promise to Logan that Logan would be able to finish high school in KC. Tom knew that there were more baseball scouts in the south, thereby increasing Logan’s chances of being noticed.
Tom was also a strict disciplinarian who exercised significant control over Logan’s life; from staying at different hotels from the team on baseball trips (to prevent Logan from staying up late due to kids being kids) to having to throw a baseball with his cousin, Tony, 100 times without either dropping a single throw, Tom allowed no excuses and expected the best from Logan. But Tom and Diane (Logan’s mother) spent considerable amounts of time and money to help Logan become a baseball player: from the buckets of baseballs, gloves, and bats; to building a dirt and clay mound in the back yard; to driving Logan to camps and tournaments. While Tom was a strict disciplinarian with high standards, he clearly only wanted what was best for Logan long-term.
After graduating from high school, Morrison was drafted in the 22nd Round of the 2005 Rule IV draft by the Florida Marlins. Morrison did not sign immediately, instead choosing to attend Metropolitan Community College – Maple Woods in Kansas City, Missouri, where he starred on the baseball team, hitting .436 in his lone season. Before the 2006 draft, Morrison signed with the Marlins as a draft-and-follow, a now-defunct rule that allowed clubs to maintain exclusive signing rights to a drafted player until a week before the following draft, provided that the drafted player attends junior college. Morrison signed for $225,000 and was assigned to the GCL Marlins, the Rookie Level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. Morrison put up a respectable 270/343/348 line in 26 games in the GCL before being promoted to the Jamestown Jammers, the Marlins’ Short Season A affiliate in the New York-Penn League. Morrison was clearly over-matched while in the NYPL, struggling while putting up a 203/295/284 line. Though Morrison’s seasonal line was an unimpressive 239/321/219, he showed good patience at the place and a good glove at first base.
Morrison spent the 2007 season tearing up the A Level South Atlantic League. Playing for the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Morrison put up a 267/343/483 line with 24 home runs and 22 doubles. After the season, Baseball America ranked Morrison the #16 prospect in the Marlins’ organization. In 2008, Morrison broke out, putting up a 332/402/494 line while playing for the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Marlins’ High A affiliate in the Florida State League. While Morrison’s home run total fell from 24 to 13, his walks increased (57 to 65) and strikeouts decreased (96 to 80), while hitting more doubles (22 to 38) in roughly the same number of plate appearances (513 to 555). Baseball America ranked Morrison the #3 prospect in the Marlins system (behind Mike – now Giancarlo – Stanton and Cameron Maybin) and #18 overall (between Lars Anderson and Alcides Escobar). Baseball America also ranked Morrison the “Best Hitter for Average” in the Marlins’ system, and “Best Batting Prospect”, “Best Strike Zone Discipline”, and “Best Defensive 1B” in the Florida State League in 2008. Baseball Prospectus‘ Kevin Goldstein ranked Morrison the #4 prospect in the Marlins’ system (behind Maybin, Stanton, and Matt Domingez) and ranking Morrison #50 overall, stating Morrison was the “best pure hitter in Florida’s system” with an “advanced approach.” Superlatives kept rolling in, as Morrison was named to the 1st Team Minor League All-Star team as its 1B by Baseball America and the Florida State League’s MVP.
After the season, Morrison was assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League, where he put up a robust 404/449/667 line in 99 plate appearances. While the Arizona Fall League is an environment that is very friendly to offense, it served to confirm Morrison’s vaunted prospect status. While Morrison did not project as a typical slugging first baseman, his high contact rate, advanced approach at the plate, and great play at first base indicated a bright future.
Morrison opened the 2009 season playing for the Jacksonville Suns of the AA Southern League and broke his thumb in the second game of the season (he was 2/6 with 3 walks, a triple, and a home run at the time), missing nearly two months of the season. When Morrison was healthy, he was send back to the High A Jupiter Hammerheads, where he appeared in three games before being sent back to Jacksonville. Morrison ended the season with a solid 277/411/442 line in only 343 plate appearances. The highlight of Morrison’s season was batting .360 with nine runs in seven games as Jacksonville won the Southern League crown. Despite only playing half of a season, Morrison’s prospect status remained steady, being ranked #2 in the Marlins’ system (only behind Stanton and now ahead of Dominguez) and #50 overall by Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus and #2 in the Marlins’ system (again, only behind Stanton) and #20 in all of baseball. While his prospect status did move, there was increased concern about Morrison’s lack of power, with many prognosticators stating that his plate discipline needed to remain great in order to offset the lack of offensive production.
In January 2010, Morrison participated in a chat at BaseballAmerica, interacting with fans and showing off his funny side. Morrison discussed his willingness to play the outfield if he didn’t win the spring training competition with Gaby Sanchez (“I will catch if they want me to.”), when he will make his Major League debut (“That’s a better question for Larry Beinfest, our GM.”), and his advice for people who attend small schools and hope they can still make it big (“If you think you can’t make it big, you never will! You are what you believe, hard work and dedication goes a long way in making up for lack of talent.”)
In 2010, Morrison was invited to the major league spring training with the Marlins and struggled against the better competition (and tiny sample size), putting up a 209/244/326 line in 43 plate appearances. Assigned to the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Marlins’ AAA Level affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, Morrison was hitting 300/450/600 (approximately – I can’t find game logs with SF and SH) when he had a collision with the Round Rock Express’s Matt Kata and injured his shoulder. Morrison was hurt and missed the next month, living with his parents in Slidell while resting and rehabbing. Upon return, Morrison was sent to the Jupiter Hammerheads, where he feasted on High A pitching to a 381/381/667 line across five games and was returned to the Zephyrs. Morrison hit 308/520/465 (yes, his OBP was above his slugging) for the next two months, whereas he was called up by the Marlins.
As Morrison’s baseball career was ascending, his personal life was falling apart. Logan’s father, Tom, a lifelong non-smoker, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer in February 2010. Effectively given a death sentence, Tom had only one question: “Will I get to see my son play in the big leagues?” Morrison made his Major League debut on July 27, singling in four at bats against the San Francisco Giants, including going 1-3 against Matt Cain. Morrison was also doing something he had only done 21 times before – playing left field; Morrison played left field twice in 2009 and 19 times in 2010 prior to being called up. With Gaby Sanchez paying first base for the Marlins, Morrison’s athleticism would be used in left field.
Tom Morrison watched every game on television but, more than anything, wanted to see Logan play in the Major Leagues in person. Doctors deemed Tom too sick to fly, as it would expose his immune system, devastated by chemotherapy, to too many potential illnesses. The plan was hatched: Tom would take a 30-hour train ride from New Orleans to New York to see Logan play the New York Mets on August 25, Logan’s 23rd birthday. Batting second (his normal place) and playing left field, Morrison went 3/5 with his first big league triple, while scoring two runs. Tom Morrison passed on December 8 and Logan started LoMo Camp for a Cure shortly thereafter, a camp for kids to receive baseball instruction, a camp shirt, and autographs – a way for kids to have fun, with the proceeds benefitting the American Lung Association.
Despite all of the personal chaos, Morrison had his best season in baseball, hitting 283/390/447 in 62 games at the big league level with 20 doubles, seven triples, and two home runs, walking 41 times and striking out 51 times. Morrison’s exceptional approach at the plate drew rave reviews, though his lack of home run power gave some pause.
In 2011, Morrison started the year with the Marlins, putting up a 327/424/636 (small sample size) line in the first 15 games of the season before injuring his foot. Morrison strained a muscle in the arch of his left foot missed the next four weeks, before a three-game rehabilitation stint with the Jupiter Hammerheads. Returning to the Marlins, Morrison struggled, hitting 235/308/433 before being sent down to AAA – but the reason was not entirely due to his lack of production. Morrison’s outspoken personality (namely his willingness to talk frankly with reporters and active twitter account) and his skipping of a (technically optional) meet-and-greet session with season ticket holders.
“I’m heartbroken and I’m disappointed. I asked for an explanation and the one I got was I was hitting .240 I don’t know if that makes any sense to me or to you guys but. All I know is I go out and I give everything for this team. I play hurt, I play through injury and this is how you get treated. It doesn’t seem very fair or right to me.’
Of course, it’s possible that his demotion was due to his blasting of teammate Hanley Ramirez’s lack of effort during the 2011 season (whether perceived or actual), sparked by being the last player to arrive at the ballpark on new manager Jack McKeon’s first day. Morrison was hardly the first player to criticize Ramirez’s effort – from a verbal altercation with Dan Uggla to Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine, saying he would saying that, if were up to him, he would probably trade Ramirez because he doesn’t seem to care enough or respect the game.
But, it seems that it was a combination of his Twitter use (he was warned by team president David Samson in May), general friction with Marlins management, and a lack of elite level productivity. Either way, Morrison hit 167/222/375 during his time in AAA and was called back up in short order. For the rest of the season, Morrison hit 240/339/480, mashing six home runs in 115 plate appearances. Despite the ups and downs, Morrison’s 247/330/468 line was actually pretty good – a 116 OPS+ and 23 home runs (good for second on the Marlins, after Giancarlo – then Mike – Stanton).
In September, Morrison filed a grievance against the Marlins, saying his demotion was not for baseball reasons and he should have received his full Major League salary for the time of his demotion.
After the season, Morrison decided to have a little fun with reporters who fail to properly check stories before going out to the public with them:
Just heard from my boy that Prince to Seattle is a done deal…—
Logan Morrison (@LoMoMarlins) December 22, 2011
Predictably, twitter erupted. Morrison followed up with the following, indicating that his tweet was little more than a ruse:
In order to close out the ruse, Morrison tweeted a third time:
Oh $hit, you guys thought I meant the 1B from Milwaukee. My bad. (I love all of you. Happy Holidays!)—
Logan Morrison (@LoMoMarlins) December 22, 2011
So what do we make out of Logan Morrison? He may never win a batting title or hit 40 home runs, and his use of social media is something that the Marlins will probably never like, but, as the adage goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity. But we should root for players like Morrison – he clearly tries his hardest while doing sticking to baseball’s true intention: entertainment. He interacts with fans on twitter:
Gives (potentially inaccurate) tours of New York City while on a double decker bus:
And goes fishing with Jenn Sterger:
Beyond that, Logan Morrison is a success story. Despite being a 22nd round pick in 2005, Morrison has appeared in excess of 200 major league games and has left field on lock down for the Marlins, with a possibility of moving to first base should Gaby Sanchez keep hitting under .200. Amazingly, Morrison is one of three 22nd round picks from 2005 to make the major leagues – Tommy Hanson (Braves/27th pick, 677 overall) and Jaime Garcia (Cardinals/30th pick/680 overall) – and all have become solid players, if not stars outright.
Above all, check out LoMo Camp for a Cure: LoMo Camp for a Cure
The 1992 Major League Baseball Rule IV draft was an amazing draft. A number of notable players were taken in the first two rounds: Derek Jeter (Yankees, 1st round/6th overall pick), Jason Kendall (Pirates, 1/23), Johnny Damon (Royals, 1s/35), Todd Helton (Padres, 2/55– though he didn’t sign), Jason Giambi (A’s, 2/58), and John Lynch (Marlins, 2/66 – you know him better as the hard-hitting safety for the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
As you may have noticed, the #1 overall pick was not mentioned (in fact, none of the top five picks were mentioned), as he did not live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him. Phil Nevin was the #1 overall pick in 1992.
After graduating from El Dorado High School in Placetina, California, Nevin was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 82nd overall (3rd round) pick of the 1989 draft and offered $100,000 to play baseball professionally. Nevin chose to attend college at Cal State Fullerton. In 1992, Nevin was awarded the NCAA Division I Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur baseball player and earned the MVP of the 1992 College World Series. The Houston Astros selected Nevin with the first overall pick of the 1992 draft. This pick was not without controversy, even within the Astros organization. Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, a scout within the Astros organization, was so upset that the Astros did not pick Derek Jeter that he quit the organization and retired from baseball for good.
Nevin did not sign immediately, as he had more important things on his mind – he was the starting third baseman for Team USA at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Nevin immediately showed his talent in 1993. After being ranked the #30 prospect by Baseball America, Nevin put up a 286/359/413 line for the Tuscon Toros, the Astros’ AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. In 1994, Nevin again returned to the Toros, as the Astros still had Ken Caminiti as their starting third baseman. Ranked #24 by Baseball America, Nevin seemed to stagnate in Tuscon, putting up a 263/343/393 line.
In 1995, the Astros dealt Caminiti with a number of other players (including Steve Finley) to the San Diego Padres for a number of players (including Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, and Phil Plantier). Despite third base opening up and being ranked #59 by Baseball America, Nevin began the year back with the Toros. After putting up a 291/367/463 line in AAA, Nevin was promoted to the Astros. Appearing in 18 games, Nevin put up a 117/221/133 line that would even embarrass Mario Mendoza. Nevin got into a shouting match with Manager Terry Collins and, on August 15, the Astros dealt Nevin to the Detroit Tigers to complete a previous trade for Mike Henneman (who was a pretty decent closer for the Tigers at the time, finishing his career with 193 saves and a 3.21 ERA).
Nevin was assigned to the Toledo Mun Hens of the International League, the Tigers’ AAA affiliate. Nevin was brought up when rosters expanded in September, and put up a 219/318/33 line, primarily playing left field. With Travis Fryman firmly ensconced at third base, Nevin, no longer considered a rookie and therefore ineligible for prospect ranking, was sent to the Jacksonville Suns, the Tigers’ AA affiliate in the Southern League. Nevin finally put up big numbers, putting up a robust 294/397/561 for the Suns. Though primarily a third baseman who played some left field and first base, spent 62 of his 98 games playing catcher, a position entirely foreign to him. In August, Nevin made his first big league appearance of the year for the Tigers. Primarily playing third base, Nevin put up a solid 292/338/533 line in 130 plate appearances.
In November 1997, Nevin was dealt to the Anaheim Angels with Matt Walbeck for Nick Skuse. In 75 games for the Angels, Nevin hit an unimpressive 228/291/371. Traded on the eve of the regular season, Nevin was dealt again, this time to the San Diego Padres with Keith Volkman for Gus Kennedy and Andy Sheets. Nevin seemed to bloom in San Diego, putting up a 269/352/527 line across 441 plate appearances while playing third base and catching. As San Diego’s starting third baseman, Nevin put up a 303/374/543 line in 2000 and 306/388/588 line in 2001 while making his first All Star Game. In 2002, Nevin strained his arm in May, just three days after his return, Nevin fractured his humerus, missing the next six weeks of the season. Nevin put up a 285/344/413 line in 2002, followed by a 279/339/487 2003 campaign where he missed four months of the season after dislocating his left shoulder in Spring Training. Nevin was healthy again in 2004, primarily playing first base and putting up a 289/368/492 line, Nevin’s last big season. In May, Nevin was accused of spewing a string of vulgarities in front of young fans, including the man’s 8-year-old daughter in Philadelphia. After taking a called third strike, Nevin was heckled by the historically foul-mouthed Philadelphians and responded in a manner he later conceded to be “unprofessional.”
In 2005, at the age of 34, Nevin began to decline. After putting up a 256/301/399 line in 73 games for the Padres, Nevin was dealt to the Texas Rangers for Chan Ho Park and cash, where he put up a 182/250/323 line in 29 games. In 2006, Nevin hit 216/301/415 for the Rangers, then was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Jerry Hairston, Jr., where he seemed to rebound, putting up a 274/335/497 line over 67 games. At the trading deadline, Nevin was dealt with cash to the Minnesota Twins for Adam Harben. Nevin finished the season with a 190/340/286 line in 16 games for the Twins.
After that inauspicious ending to the season, Nevin never played another inning of professional baseball. Formally announcing his retirement in May 2007, Nevin began working pre-game shows for the Padres, then worked for ESPN as a college baseball analyst in 2008. In 2009, Nevin was the manager of the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League. In 2010, Nevin managed the Erie SeaWolves, the AA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. In 2011, Nevin managed the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers’ AAA affiliate, where he still manages today.
So what happened to Nevin? He never came close to the lofty expectations placed on a first overall draft pick, but he had a solid career, putting up a 270/343/472 career line (career 114 OPS+) across 1217 games and turning into a top managerial prospect. Of course, the real vindication was for Hal Newhouser, as the best player in the 1992 draft was, by nearly 20 career WAR, Derek Jeter.
If one was to look at the 2001 MLB Rule IV Draft without any knowledge of the change in the baseball landscape over the past decade, it would be likely that it would make sense that Joe Mauer was picked ahead of Mark Prior (though one might wonder why Mark Teixeira and David Wright went as late as they did). Mauer and Prior have become inextricably linked due to the Minnesota Twins’ overt refusal to pay Prior’s bonus demands and the veracity of the old adage: there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect (or, TNSTAAPP, for short).
Leading up to the 2001 draft, Mark Prior was viewed as the complete package. Prior, a 6’5” 230 pound righty at the University of Southern California, was the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy, given annually to the national college baseball player of the year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association after a season where he went 15-1 with a 1.70 ERA while striking out 202 batters, walking 18, and allowing 100 hits in 138 innings. Prior’s pitching motion appeared to be clean and easy, while he threw mid-90s fastballs, coupled with his curveball, slurve, and a changeup. Viewed as nearly ready for major league baseball, Prior was rumored to want a record-setting contract and made it publicly know, albeit through back channels, that he did not want to be drafted by the Minnesota Twins. The Minnesota Twins, often claiming that they could not financially compete with the larger market teams despite their owner, Carl Pohlad, being one of the richest owners in all of sports (his estimated wealth in 2006 was $2.6 billion), had a decision to make. Potentially blow the #1 pick in the draft or take another player. Another top college player, Mark Teixeira, represented by Scott Boras, was rumored to be seeking a similar bonus to Prior, was not an alternative.
Accordingly, the Twins turned their attention to a local option, St. Paul’s Joe Mauer. A multi-sport standout at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mauer was the USA Today High School Player of the Year in football (2000) and in baseball (2001), and had committed to play both sports at Florida State. Additionally, Mauer had appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd feature (not entirely relevant, but pretty cool).
With the #1 pick in the 2001 Rule IV draft, the Minnesota Twins picked Mauer, a move that, to the casual observer, looked like a total cop-out move. But would time bear out their pick? Yes, but not for the reasons considered at the time.
Mauer signed quickly in 2001 and appeared in 32 games for the Elizabethtown Twins, the Twins Rookie level Appalachian League affiliate, putting up a 400/492/491 slash line splitting his time between catching and DH’ing. Prior didn’t sign until August and failed to appear in any league games.
In 2002, Baseball America‘s Top 10 looked like this:
1. Josh Beckett, rhp, Marlins
2. Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs
3. Hank Blalock, 3b, Rangers
4. Sean Burroughs, 3b, Padres
5. Carlos Pena, 1b, Athletics
6. Juan Cruz, rhp, Cubs
7. Joe Mauer, c, Twins
8. Wilson Betemit, ss, Braves
9. Drew Henson, 3b, Yankees
10. Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers
In effect, Baseball America said that the draft order should have gone Mark Prior, Joe Mauer, then Mark Teixeira (who went #5 to the Rangers, after the then-Devil Rays picked Dewon Brazelton at #3 then the Phillies picked Gavin Floyd at #4).
In 2002, Prior dominated the minor leagues. In six starts with the AA West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League, he struck out 55and walked 10, while putting up a 2.60 ERA in 34.2 innings (14.3 K/9). In May, he was promoted to the AAA Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League (Iowa is on the Pacific coast?) and was nearly as dominant, striking out 24 and walking 8 in 16.1 innings, while putting up a sparkling 1.65 ERA. On May 22, Prior made his big league debut, striking out 10, and allowing only four hits and two runs in six innings, to pick up his first big league win. Prior put up a solid 3.32 ERA (122 RRA+) in 19 starts over 116.2 innings. Prior came in 7th in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting (despite having the second highest WAR).
Mauer’s 2002 season was also impressive, as he hit 302/393/392 for the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Twins’ A-level affiliate in the Midwest League. Mauer caught 81 games, played 13 at first base, and spent some time at DH, impressing scouts with his talent. After 2002, Prior was no longer eligible to be on any top prospect lists, but Mauer moved up to #4 on Baseball America’s list (behind Mark Teixeira, Rocco Baldelli, and Jose Reyes, just slightly ahead of future first ballot Hall of Famer Jesse Foppert).
Prior’s 2003 is the stuff of legends (or nightmares for Cubs fans, who watched Dusty Baker make Prior and Kerry Wood throw as many pitches as humanly possible), as Prior went 18-6 in 30 starts, logging 211.1 innings, while striking out 245 batters (10.4/9) and placing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting (behind Eric Gagne and Jason Schmidt, despite having the highest WAR of any pitcher in the NL). The Cubs came a mere out from making it to their first World Series since the Truman Administration. Mauer had another banner season in the minor leagues. Starting the year playing for the Fort Myers Miracle of the High-A Florida State League, Mauer put up a 335/395/412 line while splitting time between catcher and DH. Promoted to the New Britain Rock Cats of the AA Eastern League, Mauer’s numbers improved, hitting 341/400/453, playing almost exclusively behind the plate. Mauer put also walked 49 times and struck out 49 times, showing a mature approach to go with his pure talent. Mauer also took part of the 2003 All-Star Futures Game at U.S. Cellular Field.
Both Prior and Mauer spent significant time on the DL in 2004. Prior missed the first two months of the 2004 season with an injury to his Achilles tendon. Rumors swirled that Prior’s ulnar collateral ligament was injured and he would need Tommy John surgery, but both Prior and the Cubs denied the rumors. Prior ended up with a 4.02 ERA in 21 starts, finishing the season with a career high 16 strike outs against the Cincinnati Reds. Mauer, now ranked Baseball America’s #1 overall prospect, began the year as the starting catcher for the Twins, and went 2/3 with two walks. In his second game of the season, Mauer injured his left medial meniscus (read: cartilage in the knee), had surgery, and missed a month of the season. After a cup of tea in the minors (7 total games), Mauer returned to the twins and immediately began mashing. On July 15, Mauer had a 308/369/570 line when the pain and swelling in his knee forced an early ending to the 2004 season.
In 2005, Prior began the year on the DL and did not make his debut until April 13. Prior was pitching well when, on May 27, Prior was hit on his right elbow by a comebacker off the bat of Brad Hawpe, causing a compression fracture and sending Prior back to the DL. Prior returned on June 26 and made a total of 27 starts, putting up a 3.67 ERA in 166.2 Innings, with 188 strike outs. Mauer, still considered a rookie (he had 122 at bats in 2004, just eight shy of the required 130), was again ranked the #1 prospect in Baseball America and, again, began the year as the starting catcher for the Twins. Mauer appeared in 131 games, putting up a 294/372/411 slash line.
2006 is when it all fell apart for Prior, as he felt stiffness in his shoulder during spring training and was diagnosed with a strained shoulder. Prior’s debut did not occur until June 18, when the Detroit Tigers scored eight runs (seven earned) in 3.2 innings. Prior went six innings only once in 2006. Prior ended up making only nine starts, pitching 43.2 innings, striking out 38 batters (while a 7.8 K/9 is great for many pitchers, Prior averaged 10.6 K/9 his first four seasons), and earning a 7.21 ERA. On July 14, Prior was put on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with tendinitis. In 2006, Mauer appeared in 140 games, putting up a 347/429/507 slash line. Mauer’s .347 batting average led the Major Leagues (.003 ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Freddy Sanchez). Mauer was selected to his first All-Star Game, was awarded his first Silver Slugger, and came in 6th place in the AL MVP vote (teammate Justin Morneau won the award despite having the 19th highest WAR. Grady Sizemore, who came in 11th place led the league with a 7.3 WAR and Mauer, with a 7.0 WAR was in second place. Third place was held by teammate Johan Santana, with 6.9).
In the off season, Prior filed for salary arbitration for the first time, eventually agreeing with the Cubs on a $3.575 contract for 2007. In April, Dr. James Andrews performed exploratory arthroscopic surgery on Prior, and determined that he had injuries to his shoulder, and performed a debridement of Prior’s rotator cuff, and repaired labral and capsular injuries in Priors shoulder. Prior would be out the entire season, though reports at the time indicated that he could be back at full strength in 2008. Though not as extreme, Mauer also had injury issues in 2007. After agreeing to a four-year, $33 million contract with the Twins (with a $25,000 bonus for winning the Gold Glove), Mauer had a small stress fracture during spring training, followed by a left quadriceps strain in early June, which landed him on the 15-day DL. Mauer appeared in only 109 games, still putting up a solid 293/382/426 slash line.
Mark Prior would not pitch in an organized, professional baseball game until 2010, and only pitched a total of 24 innings before being beset by more injuries. Conversely, Mauer put up MVP-caliber numbers, with a 332/411/481 slash line from 2008-2011, while leading the AL in batting twice, and putting up a historic 365/444/587 slash line in route to the MVP in 2009. Though his numbers have come down significantly since 2009 (while his salary has skyrocketed), Mauer is still an elite defensive catcher with a potent bat (and great sideburns).
So what happened? Were the pundits incorrect? Yes, but It is easy to look back at a draft and think “I could have done better,” but it is nearly impossible to predict what a group of people under age 22 will do over the course of the next 15 years. The 2001 draft was seemingly filled with more landmines than most (Dewan Brazelton, the #3 pick has a -4.0 WAR, and 18 of the 44 first round or supplemental first round picks failed to reach the major leagues), but, in the end, it appears that going the “cheap” route worked well for the Twins, at least until they have to pay off the nearly $160 million left on Joe Mauer’s contract.
In the end, the best pick may have been one of the following:
- A right handed pitcher from Pepperdine taken with the 28th pick of the second round (#72 overall) named Dan Haren;
- A first baseman from Missouri State University taken with the 4th pick of the 5th round (#140 overall) named Ryan Howard;
- A third baseman from the University of Cincinnati taken with the 17th pick of the 8th round (#243 overall) named Kevin Youkilis; or
- A second baseman from the University of Memphis taken with the 22nd pick of the 11th round (#338) named Dan Uggla.
Either way, their result was better than Mark Prior. Maybe, just maybe, if a few things had been slightly different, we would have been mocking the Twins for being cheap and applauding the Cubs for being willing to spend money.