If Joe Mauer hadn't been born on Lexington Avenue, and if he hadn't already signed a franchise-record contract, the Twins might be nearing a baseball rarity: A catching controversy.
This may sound like hyperbole spurred by Wilson Ramos becoming the first big-league player in 68 years to collect seven hits in his first two career games, but interviews with members of the Twins organization and scouts from other teams indicate that the Twins may soon be able to claim they have the two best catchers in the American League.
If that's a problem, Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, a close friend of Ramos', offers the solution:
"I can fix everything," Cabrera said with a smile Tuesday in the Tigers clubhouse. "The best thing would be if they traded Ramos to Detroit. What are they going to do, with Mauer already here?
"It's tough. So the best thing would be to send Wilson to his big brother. Send him to me. I'll take good care of him."
Minnesotans may be too spoiled to realize it, but quality catchers who can hit are rare. That's why, when closer Joe Nathan was lost for the season, the Twins quickly nixed the idea of trading Ramos for a Nathan replacement.
The Twins don't look at Ramos as redundant or expendable. They see him as a multitalented top prospect who as soon as next season could enable Mauer's bat to stay in the lineup every day. One possible future scenario would have Mauer catching five days a week and spending one or two games a week at DH or in the outfield, with Ramos catching two days a week and spending the rest of his time as the Twins' righthanded designated hitter, helping them balance their left-leaning lineup.
Ask Twins officials questions about Ramos on the record, and they say what General Manager Bill Smith said Tuesday: "It's all way too premature. Let's just say you can't have too much talent at any position."
Ramos' talent is abundant, and became immediately evident upon his arrival. According to research done by Anthony LaPanta of Fox Sports North, even good hitters rarely accumulate seven hits in two games. In their entire careers, Mauer has done it four times, Justin Morneau three times, Michael Cuddyer twice, and FSN analyst Roy Smalley -- a scientific and successful hitter -- never did it.
It took Ramos two games, during which he sprayed hits to all fields. Tuesday night, Ramos went 0-for-3 and was at the plate when J.J. Hardy scored the winning run in the ninth on a wild pitch.
"Ramos has got really good basic mechanics," Smalley said. "He gets himself into a hitting position really well, and he stays pretty square to the ball, meaning he's not flying open and he's able to hit the ball to all fields.
"What is eye-popping is the bat speed, how fast and strong his hands are, which gets the big end of the bat through the hitting zone. You can't teach that. There are certain guys, they make a different sound, and the velocity of the ball off the bat is different. You either have that or you don't, and he has it."
When Ramos was a teenager, the Twins invited him to their Venezuelan academy. When he turned 16 and they were allowed to sign him, they landed him for a bonus of less than $30,000. His friend Cabrera, who also was pursued by the Twins as a teenage free agent in Venezuela, signed with the Marlins for $1.8 million.
Ramos wasn't considered a phenom until he started maturing into the powerfully built prospect he is today.
"I saw him in A-ball, in Beloit, and at that point he had grown into being a man," said Twins assistant GM Rob Antony. "He wasn't hitting for a lot of power then, but he had that good sound off his bat. In A-ball, you might have two or three guys with that good sound. All of a sudden he just took off as a player.
"It's pretty simple, really. He can hit, he has power, he can throw and he can catch. What more are you looking for in a catcher?"
How about language skills?
After Ramos got three hits Monday, he stopped by the Twins dugout for an interview. Suddenly his face loomed on the Twins' scoreboard, bigger than Mount Rushmore, and fans stopped to watch.
"How about that?" Antony said. "After your second game, you're not just on TV, you're standing there in front of the entire crowd, and he was great. He's really worked at his English. He understands that, being a catcher, how important it is for him to be able to communicate with English-speaking pitchers."
As Ramos spoke, Twins fans on the club concourse yelled, "Move Mauer to third!" Or "Move Ramos to third!"
"I've been telling him every year, when he comes to the big leagues, it's going to be tough," said Cabrera, who plays with Ramos for the Aragua Tigres in Venezuela. "I told him, 'You've got Mauer there, one of the best players in the league, so it's going to be hard, because they don't want you in the big leagues sitting and watching the game. They want you to play every day, because you're good.
"Right now, I'm just happy for him, because he's a good friend. We're like brothers."
If Ramos seems composed, that's because he's caught in pressurized games before. Smith said Ramos "blossomed" in Venezuela during the winter of '08-09, when his country won the Caribbean World Series.
"Venezuela has a lot of fans, a bunch of crazy fans, and every time you have a pretty good game they love you, and when you have a bad game, everybody has bad words for you," Ramos said.
When Mauer's heel heals and he returns to the lineup, Ramos might find himself back in the minors.
"I want to stay here," he said. "I know I can help the team a lot. I can hit, I can play pretty good defense, but I don't know what decision they'll make."
Ramos' time will come, if it hasn't already.
"He's unbelievable," Twins reliever Jose Mijares said.
"You're going to be seeing big things from him for a long time," Cabrera said. "Just send him over here. I'll take him, I'll tell you that."
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org