After yet another campaign of 90 losses, the Twins found themselves heading into this offseason with more unanswered questions. One question mark last year was what happened to Joe Mauer, but it’s time to calm the worries and know that 2015 will represent a big bounce back for the Twins converted catcher.
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In 2014, Joe Mauer played his first full season as the Twins first basemen. The thought was that after suffering a concussion in 2013, along with a host of other injuries over his career, the move would allow less stress on his body and more time on the field. Unfortunately for both Mauer and the Twins, things didn’t work out that way.
Last season, Joe Mauer played in just 120 games (seven more than in 2013), while slashing a career worst .277/.361/.371. His 96 strikeouts were a career high while his 60 walks were a career low (not counting a 2011 campaign in which Mauer only played in 82 games). Looking simply at the negative numbers, there may be cause for concern, but to understand Joe Mauer, it might be best to dig a little deeper.
For the first decade of his career with the Twins, Mauer played catcher. In starting games behind the plate, he was offered the advantage of being able to see the game from the umpire’s point of view. He had the ability to understand the strike zone prior to stepping in the batter’s box for his first at bat. Maybe most importantly, the position he was playing in the field was one that came naturally to him. Taking all of that into consideration, Joe Mauer is a professional, a competitor, and he does so at the highest level.
So the question is, what can we expect for 2015?
Looking at 2012 and 2013, Mauer posted numbers reflective of the type of career he has had. Both seasons, he found himself named to the All-Star team, and in 2013, he was a Silver Slugger. In both years combined, he slashed .321/.410/.460, very respectable numbers. His 11 home runs in 2013 were the highest since the 28 home run output at the Metrodome back in 2009 (Mauer’s MVP season). In 2012, Mauer plated 85 runs, which tied for the second highest total he has experienced as a Twin.
The positive side of his recent output looks wonderful, but there always has to be another side as well correct? Mauer struck out 88 and 89 times in 2012 and 2103 respectively. Those numbers marked the highest totals of his career until being topped in 2014. However, in 2012, the 88 strikeouts were backed by 90 walks, as opposed to just 61 walks against the 89 strikeouts in 2013.
Going forward, everything has to be taken into consideration for Mauer. Heading into 2015, Mauer will turn 32 years old. He will be beginning his second season as a full-time first basemen, and he will likely be spelled at times by Kennys Vargas. Believing the decrease in production can be mainly attributed to the difference in perspective on the diamond, and the lower grasp of the game behind the plate, there should be plenty of reason for excitement going into 2015.
At this point, Twins fans should realistically know what Mauer is. Contract and stereotypical first basemen notions aside, Mauer will not hit for the power we once saw at the Metrodome, and his runs batted in numbers will largely be reflective of the lineup around him. That in mind, expecting a slash line around .310/.400/.420 is more than fair. Mauer has trended higher in strikeouts as his patience at the plate has been exploited to cause higher swing and miss tendencies. Look for the strikeout numbers to plateau this season, with the walks to experience an uptick and even post the highest number since 2012. At first base, it will be a tall order, but expecting Joe Mauer to be in the running for an All-Star nod in 2015 isn’t out of the question either.
Looking at the projections, I think what it comes down to is winning. In 2015, the Twins should have the look and feel of a significantly different ball club. With a revamped pitching staff, a solid lineup, and youth on the way, Minnesotans should have reason to get excited. Joe Mauer will look to assert veteran presence in the box score, and with 2014 being a misnomer in an otherwise Hall of Fame career, the ship should be all but righted.
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