As the weather continues to stay cold across most of Twins Territory, the baseball season continues to seem like it is light years away. This week's Twins Caravan and this weekend's TwinsFest will help to get fans back in the baseball spirit. It also means that it is creeping closer to the start of spring training. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
This part of the deep offseason can be full of a lot of downtime for baseball fans. Lucky enough for readers of this site, I have been offering up profiles of some of the worst players in the history of the Twins franchise.
So far, the series has covered Butch Huskey, Terry Felton, and Scott Klingenbeck. Huskey offered some entertaining moments in his brief Twins tenure. Felton had plenty of ups-and-downs as he tried to find a spot in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Klingenbeck showed some positive signs in the minor leagues before bottoming out at the big league level.
In all three of the previous posts in this series, I have asked for readers to chime in with their picks for the worst Twins of all-time. This week's featured player got plenty of votes over the last couple week and it made it tough to ignore his terrible time with the Twins.
Introducing, the latest installment in the "Worst Twins of All-Time Series"... Matt Walbeck
Walbeck was drafted into the Chicago Cubs organization in 1987 as an eighth round pick. The California native joined the professional baseball ranks straight out of high school. For his first season in the minor leagues, he was only 17-years old and he did well in the rookie leagues.
Over the next three seasons, he would try and find his swing at the Low-A level. After playing over 90 games in 1988 and 1989, he would miss a chunk of time in 1990. An injury-plagued season meant he only made it into 25 contests but he was now 20-years old and it was time to move up.
The Cubs consistently moved him for the next three seasons and he would make his MLB debut in 1993. In 11 games with the Cubs, he hit .200/.226/.367 with one home run and two doubles. He had put together decent numbers in back-to-back years in the minors so there was a little hope for the future. The Twins liked what they saw in his minor league numbers and they traded for Walbeck and Dave Stevens in exchange for Willie Banks.
Walbeck would become the team's primary catcher over the next two seasons by playing in 97 and 115 games. There were some struggles at the plate as he tried to adjust to being a full time player at the big league level. In 1994, Walbeck hit .204/.246/.284 with 17 extra-base hits over 359 plate appearances. Not exactly the best start for the Twins' new backstop.
He would make some adjustments for the next season and he compiled some of his best numbers as a professional. His 115 games played were the most of his career and he batted .257/.302/.316 in 115 games. It would be the only season of his career where he compiled over 100 hits.
The 1996 season would be the last for Walbeck in a Twins uniform. He would lose the designation as the primary catcher to Greg Myers and he still struggled to make consistent contact. At the end of that season, he was hitting .223/.252/.298 and it was time for the Twins to part ways with Walbeck. During the offseason, the Twins would send Walbeck to the Tigers for Brent Stentz.
It was an interesting journey for Walbeck in the rest of his career. The Tigers would use him sparingly during the '97 season before being sent to the Angels in a deal that would include future Twins player Phil Nevin. He would make it into over 100 games in the next two seasons and put up numbers that were higher than his career average.
His career would end in 2003 after spending his last two professional seasons back with the Detroit Tigers. There would be plenty of problems in those last couple years for a catcher with a lot of miles on his knees. His last season he batted .174/.197/.239 with six extra-base hits in 144 at-bats.
Walbeck makes this list of all-time worst Twins because of his ineptitude in the batter's box. He had a negative WAR in all three seasons with Minnesota and this added up to a -2.0 WAR for his Twins tenure. In all three seasons, he hit .230/.271/.300 but there were some positives on the defensive side of the ball. He had a positive defensive WAR in each of his three years and he led the AL in base runners caught in 1994.
Since his retirement, Walbeck has turned his attention to being a manager. He got his first job with the Low-A Tigers affiliate and he guided them to the 2004 Midwest League title. His team would again win the Midwest League in 2006 and it was time for a promotion. He would go to the Tigers Double-A affiliate, the Erie SeaWolves in 2007 and things really took off from there.
The Eastern League would name him Manager of the Year for 2007, a great honor for the former catcher. He would also be named 2007 Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America. Following that season, the Texas Rangers hired him as third base coach. This job would be short lived, as the club would fire him after one season in the position.
He would land back on his feet with the Pirates organization 2009. He was sent back to a familiar league, the Eastern League, to resume his managerial career. He would led the Altoona Curve to the 2010 championship and he was named EL Manager of the Year for the second time. In a surprise move, the club would fire him after the season. It seemed there were some disagreements about his managerial style.
His most recent coaching job was with the Rome Braves, an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves organization. He would lead them to a terrible first half record and he would be fired in midseason. This was the first time the Rome Braves had made a midseason change at manager. Walbeck now runs the Walbeck Baseball Academy in California.