No Mauer stand-ins really stand out

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2009 - 10:16 PM

With the No. 1 catcher still hurting, Mike Redmond figures to be busy behind the plate, along with one or possibly two inexperienced players.

FORT MYERS, FLA. - This is the longest spring training in history, and it's still not going to be long enough for Joe Mauer to be in the lineup on April 6 against Seattle.

The Twins are not ready to announce this, but they are looking at the reality of the situation and considering options.

General Manager Bill Smith made it clear that signing free agent Ivan Rodriguez is not among those. Jon Heyman had suggested a Twins interest in Pudge for SI.com.

As the Twins see it, they would be looking for a Mauer replacement for a few weeks, at worst, and the position will be filled from within.

"We've even talked about carrying three catchers,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Redmond -- plus someone who can hit, and a catch-and-throw guy.''

Mike Redmond turns 38 in May and is coming off a year in which he had the fewest games played in his 10 full big-league seasons. The Twins figure three games a week to be the optimum workload for Redmond.

The most impressive of the inexperienced catchers has been Wilson Ramos, 21, coming off a productive season at Class A Fort Myers. "We like him, but I don't think the organization would be too keen on having a kid out of A-ball in the big leagues,'' Gardenhire said.

That leaves Jose Morales, 26, to hit, and Drew Butera, 25, to catch and throw. The easiest solution would be for Morales to show enough defensively to have him alternate with Redmond during Mauer's absence.

Gardenhire said of Morales' catching, "He's OK back there,'' with OK coming off as a synonym for mediocre.

"We're going to look at Morales quite a bit the next couple of weeks,'' Gardenhire said. "We have to find out if he will hold up defensively.''

Morales signed as an infielder out of Puerto Rice in 2001. He spent two years in the Gulf Coast League, making the All-Star team in his second season.

"Joe Vavra was the minor league coordinator,'' Morales said. "He came at the start of the Instructional League that fall [2002] and said, 'Congratulations on making the All-Star team at second base. Now we want you to start catching.'"

Morales progressed through the organization to Class AA for the 2005 season. Then he played in only seven games because of injuries to a knee and then his back.

He followed by hitting .211 in 2006 in New Britain. Release?

"We had to give Jose more time because of the position change,'' minor league director Jim Rantz said. "He came out of spring training with [Class AAA] Rochester because we had a need.''

Morales played in 108 games and batted .311. He was a September call-up and made his big-league debut against the White Sox in Chicago. He went 3-for-3, then left the game after taking a bad step rounding second base.

There was ligament damage in his left ankle. He played through it for half of last season at Rochester, damaged the ankle again and underwent surgery in August.

Morales was reminded in the clubhouse before Saturday's Twins-Marlins exhibition that he still carries a 1.000 average in the big leagues.

"That was a long time ago,'' he said. "I'm only concerned with the present. My ankle is good now. I'm healthy for the first time since 2007.''

The Twins don't seem convinced. He has been given light duty to this point, with only eight at-bats in official exhibitions. On Saturday, Morales sat as Gardenhire used Butera and Ramos.

Ramos, a solid young man at 6-2, 220 pounds, walked past as Morales was talking with a reporter in the Twins' clubhouse. Asked about Ramos' lofty status as a prospect, Morales said:

"You definitely can see talent. You can see why the Twins put him on the 40-man [big-league] roster without much experience.''

And Mauer's uncertain status? "He's the best catcher in baseball, so nobody can argue how much it would mean not to have him,'' Morales said.

He paused, shrugged and said:

"That's the way it is in baseball. There's always someone ahead of you and someone behind you. Can you take advantage of your chance? That's what makes it interesting.''

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • preusse@startribune.com

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