Justin Morneau was raised in New Westminster, B.C. He was a catcher and had much success hitting the pitching faced in top youth levels in Western Canada.
"Most of the pitchers threw 85 [miles per hour], a few might've gotten to 88,'' Morneau said. "We had Rich Harden, he threw 90, and blew everyone away.''
The Twins drafted Morneau in the third round in 1999. "You start playing and get to the top rookie league, and every pitcher is throwing hard, and the doubts come,'' he said. "You say, 'How am I going to catch up to this?'
"Your eyes start to adjust, you change your swing a bit, and the mental part starts to improve. You get some confidence.''
The Twins envisioned the 6-4, 220-pound Morneau as a power hitter, obviously, and moved him from catcher to first base in 2001. Contrary to popular opinion, the Terry Ryan organization did offer innovation to turn him into a lefthanded slugger.
"The best thing for me was when the Twins sent me to Florida for what they called the 'power development program,'" he said. "This was for the young guys they thought could become home run hitters.
"The goal to produce backspin. It was all about a bat path with your swing to create that spin. It was the 'launch angle' of the early 2000s.
"We were there for seven weeks in the fall. You started hitting off a tee with that bat path, and after a while you would be getting enough carry to hit balls out of the park off the tee.
"Cuddy [Michael Cuddyer] went from six home runs in Double-A to 30. The most important thing in those early years is to figure out what kind of hitter you want to be, and that camp helped give me my answer.''
This conversation took place on Saturday at Target Field, before Morneau would fill his duties as Dick Bremer's analyst partner on the Twins-Seattle telecast.
Morneau took over as the Twins' first baseman halfway through the 2004 season at age 23 and was an MVP at age 25 in 2006. He might've won another if he hadn't been kneed in the head in Toronto halfway through the 2010 season and went through a long, career-shortening recovery from the severe concussion.
The topic on Saturday was Morneau's perspective on what he's seeing from Byron Buxton — later in the stardom process, slowed greatly by long stretches on the injured list and woes vs. big-league pitching but extra special in these early days of his 27-year-old season.
Morneau packed it in during the 2016 season as a White Sox irregular, the same season that Buxton was batting .225 and striking out at a horrendous rate before being sent to the minors.
"When he came up, I don't think Byron knew what he was as a hitter,'' Morneau said. "He was the fastest guy in baseball, and those players traditionally were leadoff hitters.
"Take some pitches, draw a walk, get on base. And that wasn't him.''
This was a pattern for Buxton in mid-struggle: Take a fastball down the pipe for strike one, foul back for strike two, and chase whatever came next for strike three.
Throw Buxton that same fastball now and the result is likely to be a scalded double. Or a 440-foot home run.
"I was a veteran when Jim Thome came here ,'' Morneau said. "He was pounding the ball to left-center in batting practice and said, 'You have to know what gets you back where you want to be, and for me that's left-center.'
"He asked what was that place for me, I didn't have an answer. I realized it was right-center, but with a natural swing, not jumping out to pull the ball.
"And Byron right now … he looks like a hitter with full confidence. When he has a cool spell, I think he'll know what will get him back where he wants to be.''
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