A column I wrote on the 2006 Minnesota Twins.
|March 29, 2006
Solving the Power Outage Problem
Twins and Al Central breakdown
by Jeff Barthel
The Minnesota Twins have oiled up the leather, stretched out the lumber and limbered up their arms in anticipation of beginning the 2006 regular season with the hope to reclaim the American League Central title.
To do so, however, the Twins will undoubtedly have to hit better—especially when it comes to power. In an era known for power hitting, the Twins have not had a 30-homerun hitter since 1987 (Gary Gaetti with 31, Tom Brunansky with 32 and Kent Hrbek with 34).
So, where are these extra-base hits and long balls going to come from? Like many other Twins teams in recent years, this year's Twins have many players who should be considered 30-homer worthy. But, who are the top power-hitting contenders for the 2006 Twins?
Tony Batista – The 32-year-old veteran third baseman hasn’t played Major League Baseball since 2004. Minnesota hopes the ex-Orioles, Blue Jays slugger (who’s topped the 30-homer mark three times in his 10-year career) can provide the much needed power; but it’s hard to believe he can get back to MLB form and knock out 30.
Torii Hunter – The defensive superstar’s hitting has become more consistent in recent years. Last season, which included missing more than two months due to injury, Hunter only hit 16 homeruns. However, in Hunter’s previous four seasons he led the team in home runs three of those years—including hammering out 29 homers in his 2002 All-Star season.
Joe Mauer – Female fans, dream on. This 22-year-old catcher will be a phenomenal hitter. Look for Mauer to hit .300-plus and possibly lead the team in batting average. But, as far as homeruns, this St. Paul native will likely hit 30 at some point in his career, it’ll be a few years though. As for 2006, look for Mauer to hit some homers, but not more than 24-25. The third-year catcher will provide Minnesota some consistent hitting, but not a ton of power … yet.
So, who will be that first Twin since ’87 to hit 30 homeruns?
Of the above-mentioned, Hunter and Batista are the most probable; however, the key to bringing some power back to Minnesota’s lineup will be its 24-year-old Canadian import—third year first baseman, Justin Morneau.
In 2005, the towering first baseman’s production (or lack thereof) paled in comparison with his lofty potential. Pre-season illnesses and getting hit on the helmet hampered Morneau’s production last season. He finished last season with a .239 batting average, 22 homeruns and 79 RBI.
Although his RBI total led the Twins, expect better things for Morneau this season. At 6 feet 4 inches, and a strong 227 pounds, the burly first baseman should be able to knock out 30 and drive in 100 if his health holds up.
This season Morneau has been in good health so far. He competed in the World Baseball Classic for Canada and rejoined Minnesota with plenty of time to prepare his swing and first baseman skills for the new season.
**This story was published in The Wake, the University of Minnesota student magazine. It was accompanied by an AL Central preview I did and may also be accessed (with its complementing visuals) at: