Minnesota Twins

Twins Young Hitters Have Finally Grown Up

The Minnesota Twins were handicapped as the favorites to win the World Series last year by baseball writers such as ESPN’s Jayson Stark and Newark Star-Ledger’s Dan Graziano. There was a good reason for that. They had the pitching and they had young hitters that were ready to break out in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer and Morneau were so good that they were pegged as the Midwest Version of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris by the Star-Tribune and the Pioneer Press. Twins fans had every reason to be optimistic with the pieces in place. Unfortunately, it did not work out as Mauer and Morneau went through a rough first full season. Twins offense was anemic all of last season as the pitchers were forced to throw shutouts to even have a chance to win. This year is a different story. The hitters have finally played to their potential which is the big reason why the Twins are playing very well these last few weeks.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were simply very disappointing last year to say the least. They did not get the job done when the Twins needed it the most. Mauer may have batted .294, but the important stat was that he did not drive in runs with runners in scoring position. The same went for Morneau too. The Twins first baseman was horrible last year despite being the second player to lead the club with 22 homeruns and leading the team with 79 RBIs.  He got worse each month as a player as he would strikeout or ground into double plays.  His confidence clearly eroded. It did not help that he was playing hurt too. Things got so bad for him that Torii Hunter tried to punch him in an argument in the final week of the season. It was a season to forget for those two. There were doubts about those two being reliable this season from some fans. Those doubts have clearly evaporated with the way they have performed so far this season.

Mauer has had an excellent season to the point that he will likely be an All-Star. He went through a very good stretch of really hitting the ball well in the last few weeks. On Tuesday night against the Dodgers, he went 5-for-5. He went 11-for-13 against the Dodgers in this series with 6 RBIs to show for it. It has gotten to the point that when a pitcher throws the ball, he will automatically hit it which is how good he is right now. He could be the first catcher since Ernie Lombardi to win the batting title if he keeps playing like that. The best part of his success is that he is hitting with runners in scoring position. Mauer’s approach is unique because he uses the entire field to hit the ball rather than go for home runs. Torii Hunter, who is more focused into hitting home runs when he is not that type of a hitter, could take a page from what the Twins catcher is doing.

As for Morneau, he has been playing great baseball ever since Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had a chat with him at Seattle. He apparently told Morneau to start taking pitches and focus on hitting than hitting home runs. That talk has worked because the first baseman has been coming up clutch by either hitting game-winning home runs or driving in runs. How good is he? He has a seven-game hitting streak right now and last week, he had a 10-game hitting streak which was snapped last Wednesday against the Astros.  Just by hearing him speak, fans can tell that he is more assertive and confident about his abilities. His approach to the plate speaks for itself. Twins fans can start suddenly feel that the more clutch home-runs he hit, the more confidence he will get in hitting hose home runs in clutch spots as you see with great hitters like ex-Twin David Ortiz and Albert Pujols.

This team has more young hitters to build around along with Mauer and Morneau. Jason Kubel was touted to be a very good player that could hit, steal bases, and get on base often. There were questions whether or not he would recover from that knee injury based on the fact that athletes have a hard time coming back from it when they get back to playing. Kubel has recovered nicely as he has hit the ball well since he got called up. He was the bright spot of what was a wretched West Coast trip for the Twins. He did well in getting on base and getting clutch hits. He was so good that he hit home runs in each of the three-game series against the Boston Red Sox including the game winning HR against the Red Sox two weeks ago in the first game of a three-game set which set the tone for the sweep of the Red Sox.

Jason Bartlett has done a fine job since being called up from the minors. He has made great plays defensively. He has gotten base hits. In fact, he is even running from first to second to earn a double. He can do lot of good things out there. He has potential, but he has not gotten it done and he was perceived by the organization for being lazy and not wanting it more in spring training. Considering that he has one last chance to prove that he can play for the Twins as an everyday player, he is making the most of it so far.

Michael Cuddyer has had his ups and downs, but this year has been his best season ever in the majors. He is getting clutch hits and his home ratio is pretty good. He is taking great at-bats in which he does not swing as much. He makes the other pitchers work which is the key to his success. Most fans did not expect much out of him so it’s nice to see him come through.

There are many contributing factors for the young players that are excelling. I think growth and experience has helped those players. They have gained experience to know what to hit and what not to hit. Twins consultants Rod Carew and Tony Oliva deserve credit along with new hitting coach Joe Vavra for helping those young hitters blossom into productive hitters. It is obvious by the way they are making other pitchers work and how they are using the field to hit.  It is fun to see these guys finally playing to their potential especially Mauer and Morneau. After what Twins fans have seen in recent years, they deserve it. It is great to see the Twins pitchers can finally breathe and just pitch instead of worrying about whether or not they have to throw a no-hitter, shutout, or a perfect game for them to get a win like last year.

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