Mauer among those worthy of All-Star nod
Joe Mauer leads the list of deserving players who are the early favorites to be starters in the All-Star Game.
That's certainly not the case anymore.
Mauer, whose first two big league seasons were limited by a knee injury, has developed into exactly what Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff projected: a star player at a position that while critical produces few true stars. He's also a homegrown hero who is likely to have enough staying power with the franchise to still be around when it moves into the recently approved stadium.
Mauer has been the hottest hitter in the majors for a long time now, batting .386 in May and then kicking off June with a 20-for-40 stretch. His average has been as high as .388 within the last week. If he keeps this up and gets the 502 at-bats he needs to qualify -- never an automatic for a catcher -- he could become the first at his position to lead his league in batting since Ernie Lombardi in 1942.
"It's Mauer, right now," Hunter said. "Ain't nothing sweeter than Mauer's swing right now. He's taking dirty pitches right now -- dirty, nasty pitches -- and they're being called balls. That's like having Barry Bonds' eye, and he's only 23. I feel for pitchers when he's 30. He's going to be very impressive, and he's already the franchise. I love the guy."
Mauer is the type of guy who would rather talk about his favorite movie or automobile, sometimes even possible revisions to the tax code, than himself. But he recently confessed to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that, ah, what the heck, I'm feeling "pretty good'' at the plate.
"I know it's not going to go like this the whole year, but you've got to ride it out as long as you can,'' Mauer said.
Mauer said he's become confident in his swing and is using his lower body and hands to do the work. That's the way a guy talks when his timing is perfect. He's starting swings at the exact right nanosecond, so he doesn't have to use his upper body to try to speed up or slow down the swing.
It's the way Ken Griffey Jr. always seemed to hit in a Seattle uniform, the way Bonds hit in 2001 and '02. It's got to be a blast to hit when you are in that zone.
"He's just got a great swing,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "People keep saying, 'Is he going to hit for power?' Well, who cares? The guy's got a chance to win batting titles. That's how good his swing is. So you just let him play."
Mauer had five homers in his first 206 at-bats this year. He has been as clutch as anyone in baseball, however, batting .474 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
The only problem Mauer creates comes when Gardenhire fills out the lineup card. He doesn't want to wear out the kid, but how do you take him out of the lineup?
Gardenhire had started him 15 consecutive games through Saturday, using him as the designated hitter when he was not catching. He does this even though he has only two catchers on the roster, a sign of how badly he wants to play Mauer. Why not?
If you were picking an All-Star team now, Mauer would have to be the AL catcher, ahead of players such as Ramon Hernandez, Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. (See sortable stats for AL catchers: Hitting | Fielding)
Here's a look at other deserving All-Stars as we close in on the July 11 game in Pittsburgh:
(See sortable stats for NL catchers: Hitting | Fielding)
(See sortable stats for AL first basemen: Hitting | Fielding)
(See sortable stats for NL first basemen: Hitting | Fielding)
The guy is backing up his words, delivering nine home runs, 50 RBI and 30 extra-base hits in his first 63 games. He had been moved into the No. 3 spot in the order on a team that also has Raul Ibanez, Richie Sexson and Adrian "Remember Me?'' Beltre. Others in the picture: Tadahito Iguchi and Robinson Cano.
(See sortable stats for AL second basemen: Hitting | Fielding)
(See sortable stats for NL second basemen: Hitting | Fielding)
(See sortable stats for NL third basemen: Hitting | Fielding)
(See sortable stats for AL shortstops: Hitting | Fielding)
(See sortable stats for NL shortstops: Hitting | Fielding)
(See sortable stats for AL outfielders: Hitting | Fielding)
(See sortable stats for NL outfielders: Hitting | Fielding)
There's no DH in this year's game, but in talking about first-half All-Stars it's impossible to leave three guys out of the discussion. Travis Hafner, Jim Thome and David Ortiz are having huge seasons and deserve to be squeezed onto Ozzie Guillen's AL team. Ortiz has room for improvement, as his average is down, but that's nit-picking when you deliver as often as he does. Add these former first basemen to the cast of players under consideration at that position and you know there is going to be howling in some cities when the AL All-Stars are announced.
(See sortable stats for designated hitters: Hitting)
(See sortable stats for AL starters: Pitching)
(See sortable stats for NL starters: Pitching)
(See sortable stats for AL closers: Pitching)
(See sortable stats for NL closers: Pitching)
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available at bookstores, through amazon.com or direct order from Triumph Publishing (800-222-4657).