Confession time: I was among the many who back in 2001 wanted the Twins to take pitcher Mark Prior with the first overall pick in the draft. A co-worker at KFAN Radio went as far as to say, "You cowards, you pathetic cowards." He was distraught that arguably the best college pitcher to come around in years wasn't the selection.
Two years later, the Twins fell to the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Prior was lights out for the Cubs that season. The Twins' choice - catcher Joe Mauer - was dominating, but in the minors. It's hard to know with Prior if the Twins would've advanced that postseason, maybe even winning the World Series.
It isn't hard to know, even with that caveat, general manager Terry Ryan and company made the right call.
Mauer is simply one of the best players in the game.
That's why is was disheartening to read the following in a mlb.com story from last week: We hear the term "franchise player" all the time, often for more than one guy on the same team. But if you really were a big league general manager and had to choose one of today's top young players to start your ballclub, who would it be? To help answer that question, we came up with a fearsome five from which to choose, and MLB.com's beat reporters hit the clubhouses and let the question fly: "Among Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins and Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox, who would you most want to build your franchise around, and why?" Including Albert Pujols of the Cardinals wouldn't make it a fair fight, so the mighty reigning NL MVP was left out intentionally.
The rationale of this piece really flummoxes me. Where is Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, and more importantly, where is Mauer? It's not about the best players under the age of 26 - Howard is 29. In other words, Mauer, and a few others, certainly deserve recognition, surely over Cabrera.
Putting Pujols aside, as he is the clear-cut answer to that question, is Mauer next?
The play he made in the ninth in Sunday's loss in the Bronx - grabbing the ball after it hit Jose Mijares' glove, likely intentionally pump faking to first, hoping the speedy Brett Gardner would attempt to score after rounding 3rd, which he did and Mauer tagged him out - is one that few can make.
He's off to a wonderful start this season, despite getting no at-bats during spring training (he was out with a back injury). All he needed to get ready was 15 at-bats in minor league camp, and another 15 in Class A.
At 26, Mauer already has two batting titles, the only two by a catcher in the past 65 years. His .320 career average is highest ever for someone who has caught at least 500 games (slightly better than Mickey Cochrane).
Defensively, there's no one better at the premium position.
If Mauer can stay healthy - which is a big if with a knee injury in '04 and a quadriceps injury in '06 limiting his games played - he's well on his way to the Hall of Fame.
I suspect that if those mlb.com beat reporters directed that question at actual general managers, Mauer minimum, would finish in the top-five.