Monday, February 29, 2016

Floor to Celing: Buxton, Gordon, Kepler

Marilyn Indahl- USA Today Sports
Prospects can be quite the fickle crop of players. Some turn into All-Stars and others fall to the wayside before reaching their full potential. Developing baseball players from teenagers into young men is not an exact science. For every Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, there will be a Joe Benson and an Alex Wimmers.

When it comes to pitchers advancing through a minor league system, there can be plenty of ups and downs. A couple of weeks ago, I looked at the top three pitching prospects in the Twins organization to try and get a pulse on what their ceiling and floors were as they close in on Target Field. Each of these players has the potential to be a very important part of the Twins turnaround.

Today, let's look at the top position players in the organization. Many of these top prospects have been or will be featured in the Twins Daily Top Prospect list. Byron Buxton and Max Kepler could see significant playing time at the big league level this season but Nick Gordon is a couple years away from making his debut.

How high can this trio go? Or will they follow the path of Joe Benson and Alex Wimmers?

Byron Buxton
Ceiling: Buxton has been considered one of the top prospects in baseball since he was drafted with the number two overall pick. His defensive skills and base running would already rank him near the top of baseball world. There have been positive offensive signs during his professional career. He has show more signs of power than what scouts thought during the drafting process and he has a professional approach at the plate. If Buxton can continue trending forward, he has the potential to be an All-Star caliber outfielder with MVP potential. Ceiling Result: All-Star Five-Tool Outfielder

Floor: Much of Buxton's high ranking abilities come from his speed. Running down balls in centerfield and going from first to third on a single is a skill that can't be taught. Luckily, Buxton should be able to rely on his speed for multiple seasons especially as he continues to grow into his body. Buxton's lack of hitting ability in his big league debut was a little disconcerting. He's also been bitten by the injury bug more than once in his professional career. If he can't figure out how to make consistent contact and continues to get injured, it will be impossible for him to reach his potential. Floor Result: Plus Defensive Outfielder

Nick Gordon
Ceiling: When the Twins drafted Gordon, they knew of his family's baseball heritage. His father Tom, pitched for 20+ MLB seasons and his brother, Dee, has played in the last two All-Star Games. When players like Gordon grow up around baseball, there's a lot they can absorb about the game. Gordon spent all of 2015 in the Midwest League so he will likely spend most of 2016 with Fort Myers. Many believe he will be able to stick at shortstop long-term and there's hope that he will be able to develop more power as he reaches his early 20s. Gordon has things to work on but the potential and tools are all there. Ceiling Result: All-Star Top-of-the-Order Shortstop

Floor: Gordon's brother eventually had to move away from shortstop to second base and this could be the eventual landing spot for the younger Gordon. His speed tool is less than his brother so that is also something that could hold him back. At the plate, Gordon struggled in the first part of the season before combining for a .763 OPS in the second half of the year. If his power doesn't develop, he is going to need to continue to keep up his on-base percentage and make better contact. There's a good chance he will become a big leaguer but maybe not the star the Twins were hoping to get. Floor Result: Solid Average MLB Regular

Max Kepler
Ceiling: Patience finally paid off when it came to Kepler. The Twins signed him the same summer as Miguel Sano and have been waiting patiently for him to develop into his athletic frame. Kepler put everything together last season to win the MVP of the Southern League and make his big league debut. He's played centerfield for most of his professional career so he should slide nicely into a corner outfield spot and be a plus defender at either of those positions. His power potential continues to increase and he has good base running ability as well. He has the chance to be the first real baseball star from Europe. Ceiling Result: 20/20 All-Star Outfielder

Floor: Kepler struggled through some injuries in his early professional career so it was good to see a healthy season from him in 2015. Injury concerns can reappear so it is something to monitor in 2016 and beyond. Some question if his power will continue to develop as he has hit double digits in home runs only once in his professional career (2012). His defense and on-base ability should help him to keep a starting job at the MLB level. However, if the Twins want someone with more power to take over his corner outfield spot, he could see his playing time start to diminish. Floor Result: Fourth Outfielder

Which player has the better shot at reaching their ceiling? Are these floor results too optimistic? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Friday, February 26, 2016

TD Top Prospects: #7 Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco has seen limited action with the Twins in each of the last two seasons. Minnesota's use of Polanco in 2015 was unique as he was brought up for one game last June, sent back to Double-A, promoted to Triple-A less than a month later, brought back to the majors for three games, and demoted to Chattanooga where he'd finish the season. He's in his final option year and the Twins need to figure out where he fits into their long-term puzzle.
Age: 22 (DOB: 7/5/1993)
2015 Stats (Chattanooga/Rochester): .288/.339/.386 (.725) with 23-2B, 3-3B, 6-HR
ETA: 2016
2014 Ranking: 8; 2015 Ranking: 7

National Top 100 Rankings
BA: 99, MLB: 97, BP: NA

What's To Like

Polanco's bat has been close to major league ready for a couple of seasons and he's only entering his age-22 season. There were some struggles during his early taste of professional baseball where he hit under .250 in 275 GCL at-bats. He has developed into a .288/.348/.404 hitter throughout his minor league career. Polanco has even started to be recognized on the national level this year as Baseball America (99), ESPN's Keith Law (66), and MLB.com (97) all have him in their top 100.

Even though Minnesota has moved Polanco around a lot over the last two season, they wouldn't have done that if they didn't know the player could handle it. Many scouting reports peg him as a very smart player and he shows a lot of maturity even though he has been younger than the competition at every stop in his career. He's added some muscle to his frame over the last two seasons while continuing to be a good base runner.

What's Left To Work On

The Twins organization continues to play Polanco at shortstop even though he might not have all the skills for the position. Over the last two seasons, he has been charged with 65 errors at shortstop and he has a .932 fielding percentage for his minor league career. He's made some strides at the position but he projects to fit better at second base or even third base. Both of the Twins current players at those positions, Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe, started their careers as shortstops.

Offensively, the switch hitter has hit only one right-handed home run during the last two seasons. However, last season he did post identical .341 OBP marks versus righties and lefties. As he has advanced through the system, his OBP has dropped in each season since posting a career high mark of .388 in 2012. As he continues to mature into his body, it would be nice to see a rise in his some of his power numbers to turn into a double-digit home run hitter with some doubles added in.

What's Next

At this point, there's no spot for Polanco in Minnesota. Brian Dozier is entrenched at second base and the Twins have Trevor Plouffe and Miguel Sano to play at third. Polanco's best shot at the majors would be to slide into the starting shortstop role but Eduardo Escobar will likely start the year at that position.

Unless an injury happens this spring, Polanco will start the year at Rochester and continue to play shortstop and second base. It seems like another year where Polanco could be moved back and forth between the minor leagues and the majors but he will be out of options for next season. This means Minnesota will have to trade one of their other starters or find a utility spot to keep Polanco on the roster.

TD Top Prospect #10: Nick Burdi
TD Top Prospect #9: Kohl Stewart
TD Top Prospect #8: Alex Meyer
TD Top Prospect #7: Jorge Polanco
TD Top Prospect #6-#1: COMING SOON

Get to know more about Polanco and all the other top Twins prospects in the 2016 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook.

ORDER NOW: 2016 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (paperback, $15.99)

ORDER NOW: 2016 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (eBook, $10.99)

To learn more about all of the prospects in the Twins organization, make sure to order the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. The 2016 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook goes in-depth and provides player bios, scouting reports, statistics and much more on almost 160 Twins minor leaguers. From Abreu to Young, learn more about some of the Future Minnesota Twins.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Is the Twins System Broken?

Brad Rempel- USA Today Sports
An annual ritual for many baseball fans is the release of the Baseball Prospectus Handbook. It has in-depth coverage for every MLB franchise and commentary on almost 2,000 players. For some fans, this is the "Baseball Bible" for the coming season as they try and gain an advantage in the fantasy baseball realm or just want to know more about the sport they love.

I was first time buyer this season and was surprised to see how big the almost 600-page book was when it arrived at my home. After marveling at it's size, I quickly paged open to the Minnesota Twins section of the book. Twins Territory is flying high after last season so I was ready to read great reviews about the little team that could in 2015.

I was wrong. In fact as I flipped through the pages, a thought started to creep into my head. What if the Twins system is broken?

It's no secret that the Twins aren't exactly at the forefront of the analytic-driven baseball universe. In fact, Minnesota might be one of the organizations that is furthest behind when it comes to using analytics to drive front office decision making. Under the Terry Ryan regime, the way teams are built is through player development and acquisitions.

Last spring, the folks at Baseball Prospectus attempted to name "Every Team's Moneyball." This series looked to identify the one area team's use to gain an advantage over other clubs. Spoiler alert: The Twins don't have a "Moneyball" strategy. With Ryan at the helm, they are attempting to use scouting and player development because that's the strategy that worked with the Twins teams of the 2000s.

Player Development
Developing prospects is challenging since there's no magic formula to turn a budding prospect into a contributor at the big league level. Miguel Sano's talent was hard to deny even as the organization signed him as a teenager. Sano's rookie campaign was great but he's got a lot left to prove before he can solidify himself at baseball's highest level.

For every one Miguel Sano story, there are going to be other young players that aren't able to make consistent contributions. Oswaldo Arcia was ranked highly on many Twins prospect lists and he even hit 20 home runs in 2014. Last year, he was limited to 19 MLB games and the team didn't even get a September call-up. Like Arcia, fans were excited by Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas in their rookie seasons. Each of these players has shown their flaws with more big league time.

Players like Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Max Kepler haven't played enough at the big league level to grade the organization on the player development. Kepler made major strides last season and Berrios continues to look like the real deal. If Buxton can become the player most think he will be, the Twins system might be back on the right track.

Free Agent Acquisitions
In the last handful of seasons, the Twins have signed some of their richest free agent deals in team history. Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were brought into the fold during the 2014 offseason. Nolasco's four-year deal is looking like a disaster after two seasons. Hughes had a record breaking first season in Minnesota but the Twins decided to reward him with an extension and he came back down to earth in 2015.

Kurt Suzuki fits into the same mold as Hughes. He was selected to the AL All-Star team and the Twins signed him to an extension before seeing a drop in production in 2015. Ervin Santana signed last offseason and the team quickly found out that he would be suspended for the season's first 80 games. Santana's second half was up and down and fans will have to reevaluate his signing after a full campaign.

Other teams might have looked at Suzuki and Hughes and known that their age and previous track records were more indicative of their future performance. Trading those players at a the peak of their value could have brought other assets into the organization. This offseason Minnesota has been much quieter on the free agent market and this could be a result of some of their decisions over the last two years.

Trades
Aaron Hicks was starting to look like a player to be filed in the failed prospect development department. This was before the 2015 season where he finally looked like he might be able to contribute on a regular basis. With the Suzuki situation mentioned above and top catching prospects at least a year away, the Twins needed to add some catching depth. Minnesota dealt Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy. Murphy could be a huge piece for the Twins moving forward but only time will tell about what he can do in Minnesota.

Minnesota surprised a lot of the baseball world by being in contention around last year's trade deadline. To help bolster their bullpen, Ryan dealt Chih-Wei Hu and Alexi Tapia to the Rays for Kevin Jepsen. With closer Glen Perkins dealing with injuries, Jepsen was asked to take over the closing duties. He lead the American League in appearances and he will be a vital part of the Twins 2016 bullpen.

With Sano's emergence, there has been plenty of talk about trading current third baseman Trevor Plouffe. Minnesota doesn't seem to be in a hurry as Sano will be relegated to outfield duty this year and Plouffe can't be a free agent until 2018. There still might be a future trade involving Plouffe and maybe Ryan is waiting to get the right kind of value in return.

At this point, it seems tough to know if the Twins system is broken. Ryan has been back at the helm for four years and the picture is still being painted. Can a core of Buxton, Sano, and Berrios be the team that brings a title back to Minnesota?

Only time will tell.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Floor to Ceiling: Berrios, Stewart, and Jay

 
David Kohl- USA Today Sports
Many of the national prospect lists have been filtering out in the last handful of weeks. With these lists comes plenty of debate. Seth tried to sort through some of the lists to gain some clarity but there will always be people that don't agree on which prospects should be ranked higher than others.

In the end, it doesn't matter how high players are ranked if they don't consistently produce at the big league level. It's great that Byron Buxton is considered one of the best prospects but he needs to put all of his tools together to become the player most pundits believe he can be.

Pitching prospects can be tough to project. As Baseball Prospectus famously coined, "there's no such thing as a pitching prospect" because of how unpredictable pitching prospects can be. Twins fans have seen this first hand over the last couple years as top pitching prospect Alex Meyer has gone from possible frontline starter to being relegated to the bullpen.

Three of the biggest pitching prospects in the Twins system are Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Tyler Jay. They have all been first round picks since 2012 and each one is at a different part of the development process. Berrios is on the verge of his big league debut and Stewart and Jay each have things left to accomplish in the minor leagues.

Each of these players has a high ceiling but how high can they go? Or will any of them follow the path followed by Alex Meyer over the last couple of seasons?

Jose Berrios
Ceiling: Berrios has put together back-to-back strong seasons in the highest levels of the Twins farms system to make him the second highest ranked prospect in the Twins system. His control is one of his strongest assets and MLB.com recently ranked him as having the best control of any pitching prospect. He limited his walks to just 38 last season in 166.1 innings while leading the minors with 175 strikeouts. He's been very young for each level while consistently playing better than the competition. Combine all of this with his impressive curveball and changeup and you have the recipe for a top of the line starter. Ceiling: Frontline starter

Floor: There have been questions about his height since the Twins drafted him in 2012. He's slowly been able to convince some of his doubters with his on field performance. There's still no guarantee that he will be able to perform on baseball's biggest stage. Getting major league hitters out on a regular basis is much different than minor league hitters even if they are playing at Triple-A. As a worst case scenario, Berrios could only be good enough to be in the back of the rotation. Floor: Back-end of the rotation starter

Kohl Stewart
Ceiling: Stewart provides the Twins with an interesting case. When the team took him with the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, Stewart was a multi-sport high school athlete. His entire focus hadn't been on pitching until he joined the Twins organization. Now with two full seasons under his belt, Stewart is learning his craft as a pitcher. He's been very good at coaxing groundballs throughout his career and this is a very useful skill at the big league level. His body type and skill set could add up to be a workhorse in the rotation while consistently pitching 200 innings or more. Ceiling: Frontline starter

Floor: The strikeouts haven't been there for Stewart as he has moved through the Twins system. He's been at least two and a half years younger than the competition at each level but it's still a skillset that would be nice to see in a starting pitcher. There were some brief injury concerns in 2014 but most of those thoughts were behind him in 2015. He also needs to get more use out of his change-up as he continues to get closer to the big league level. If needed, the other two pitchers on this list could end up as very good bullpen options but Stewart might not fit that mold because of his lack of strikeouts. Floor: Long reliever

Tyler Jay
Ceiling: Jay was a relief pitcher for most of his college career but the Twins liked his stuff enough to use the number six overall pick on him. Minnesota will attempt to transition the left-handed hurler from shutdown bullpen arm to effective starting pitcher. With his fastball and slider combination, the Twins could probably use him in the bullpen this season. That isn't going to happen as the club will monitor his innings closely and begin his starting pitching duties in the Florida State League. If Jay fails in the transition to starting pitcher, he will make a very good bullpen arm. Ceiling: Mid-rotation starter or shutdown left-handed relief pitcher

Floor: It's hard to know how Jay will adjust to his new role as starter. The Twins obviously think he can make the switch otherwise they wouldn't have drafted him as high as they did. Unlike Berrios and Stewart, Jay has a proven track record at the collegiate level which means the Twins know more of what kind of asset they have in Jay. The starting experiment might end up being a total bust but with his top two pitches, he will find success in a bullpen role. Floor: Long reliever

Which pitcher has the brighter future? Which pitcher will be able to reach their ceiling? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Out Of Focus

Using a round ball to hit a round bat is one of the hardest skills in professional sports. It takes the right combination of hand-eye coordination to be considered one of the best hitters in the game. Joe Mauer had been one of those hitters.

Mauer's on-field performance has been on the decline since a concussion in 2013 and the resulting symptoms related to that brain injury. There may finally be some clarity to the situation as Mauer admitted to the Pioneer Press that symptoms from 2013 continued to plague him even last season.

In the story, Mauer describes that he suffered from blurred vision that he believes was triggered by bright light. Mauer said the vision issues only happened occasionally and later in the article he implies that he didn't let the coaches or front office know about his vision concerns.

Mauer feels like he is starting to get a handle on things as he has been symptom free for three months. He is still going to try and play with sunglasses during spring training to see if he can do a better job at picking up the ball and solve some of his vision issues.

Last season in day games, he hit .248/.316/.354 with 44 strikeouts in 226 plate appearances. His numbers in night games were better even if they weren't at the level of a pre-concussion Mauer. Over 366 night time at-bats, he hit .276/.352/.396 with 68 strikeouts.  This meant he was striking out in 19.5% of his day game at-bats and 18.6% of his night game at-bats.

During the 2013 campaign (the season of his concussion), Mauer had a higher OBP and SLG during day games. Over 173 at-bats that season, he hit .318/.411/.480 with 40 strikeouts. At night his batting average was nine points higher but his OPS was 18 points lower. His concussion would cause him to miss the seasons last six weeks but he was still awarded the Silver Slugger as the best hitting catcher in the American League.

There are plenty of fans that have been tough on Mauer as he transitioned to first base and tried to overcome his concussion issues. That same group would probably wonder why Mauer didn't let the coaches or front office know about his symptoms. However, he likely wasn't hurting the team by playing. He had the second highest OBP on the team behind Miguel Sano who only played in half the team's games.

So what's next?

Mauer is entering his age-33 season and most players see some decline as they start to creep further into their 30s. Mauer did set career highs in games played (158) and at-bats (666) so he was playing through the symptoms even though his performance was suffering.

The sunglasses might be a solution to help with pitch tracking. It's also easy to envision a scenario where Mauer will feel like they are messing with his routine at the plate. In the article, he even refers to his batting box routine as "weird."

It doesn't seem like a batting champion version of Mauer will rise from the ashes this season but with some new exercises and a pair of sunglasses, there's hope for Mauer to cut back on some strikeouts and hit closer to his career average of .313.

Spring training is all about hope and there seems to be more hope now that Mauer will be more successful at using a round bat to hit a round ball.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Projecting Minnesota's Optimal Defensive Line-Up

Defense wins championships.

In the baseball world, this statement might not be completely true. Otherwise, there would be teams full of Andrelton Simmons-type players. There are a lot of other factors that go into the overall equation. Teams need offense, they need pitching, and sometimes a little luck goes a long way.

Baseball line-ups aren't usually built with a defensive as the first priority. Rosters usually need to have the right combination of defense and offense. You can hide a Josh Willingham-type player in a corner outfield spot if he is mashing a bunch of home runs.

What would the Twins line-up look like if it was made up completely with defense as the only factor in making roster decisions?
Outfield: Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler
In this line-up, there are no converted infielders pushed to a corner outfield spot. This team is all about speed, range, and having a cannon for an arm. Luckily for the Twins, their optimal defensive line-up is one that could see some significant playing time this season. All three players have seen time in centerfield during their minor league careers. Buxton was just named the best defensive player in the minors by MLB.com and Rosario finished second in the AL with 16 outfield assists. Add Kepler to the mix and you have one strong trio that would be able to cover foul pole to foul pole with ease.

Catcher: Stuart Turner
Kurt Suzuki has taken a beating behind the plate over the last couple seasons and he has his flaws as a defensive catcher. The Twins traded Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy this offseason and his defense is fine for now. Two players, Stuart Turner and Mitch Garver, are the future of the position are in the Twins system. Turner is the better defensive option and he could probably hold his own at the big league level behind the plate. He could be up as early as this September as he should spend a good chunk of the year in Rochester.

First Base: Joe Mauer
Ever since his high school days, Mauer has been considered a good athlete. That's why there was little concern over him making the defensive transition from catcher to first base. Everything hasn't been perfect for Mauer in the move to a corner infield spot but he continues to learn the nuisances of what has become his new home. Mauer's former roommate, Justin Morneau, was a very strong defensive first baseman. While Mauer might not be to that level yet, he is still a strong defensive option.

Second Base: Jorge Polanco
Brian Dozier's defense has been on a steady decline over the last three years which makes it a little easier to look past him when creating the team's best defensive line-up. Another prospect with a lot of time at shortstop could be a better solution in the middle infield. Jorge Polanco, like Dozier, would need to shift from shortstop to second base. There have been plenty of questions about whether or not he will be able to stick at shortstop. This solves the problem by moving him off the position and possibly offers a little up-side over Dozier and his declining defense. A younger, more athletic player seems like a better option over an aging Dozier.

Third Base: Trevor Plouffe
It's hard not to be impressed with how far Trevor Plouffe has come at the third base position. As he transitioned to third from shortstop and a brief taste of the outfield, he looked stiff and unable to adjust to the fast pace of being at the "hot corner." By the end of this season, he ranked as one of the best defensive third basemen in the American League according to the SABR Defensive Index. Miguel Sano might take over this position in the near future but Plouffe's defense will be hard to top.

Shortstop: Engelb Vielma
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), the Twins best defensive option at shortstop hasn't played a game above the High-A level. Many of the top national prospect rankings peg him as the best defensive infielder in the organization with quite possibly the best infield arm. His offense might be a couple years away from being big league ready but his defense is ready to make the next step.

Now it's your turn. Who would be in your defensive line-up? Leave a COMMENT and join the discussion.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Twins Sign Former All-Star Carlos Quentin

The Minnesota Twins announced the signing of outfielder Carlos Quentin to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp. The 33-year old last appeared in a game for Tacoma, the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. His last big league appearance was in 20014 with the San Diego Padres.

The former two-time All-Star was first round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003. He played parts of two seasons at the big league level in Arizona before being dealt to the Chicago White Sox for Chris Carter.  His debut season in Chicago was his best as he hit .288/.394/.571 with 36 home runs and 100 RBI while finishing fifth in the American League MVP vote. His 36 home runs were one behind Miguel Cabrera for the league lead.

Quentin would make another All-Star team in 2011, his last year in Chicago. The White Sox would trade him to the Padres in the offseason. Injuries limited him to averaging under 75 games played per season in San Diego. In 2014, he batted just .177/.284/.315 and he has long been a below-average defender. Plus, there have been just three times in his career where he's played in 100 or more games in a season.

Entering the 2015 season, he was sent to Atlanta as part of the deal that brought Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton to the Padres. The Braves released him and he signed with Seattle before retiring last May. He cited chronic knee injuries as his reason for stepping away from the game before his 33rd birthday.

During his nine-year career, he hit .252/.347/.484 while hitting 13 home runs or more in six consecutive seasons. From 2008-2013, he hit .260 with an .860 OPS while averaging 30 homers per 150 games.

At this point, it seems like Quentin is being added as organizational depth and he'll have to prove himself healthy and ready with Rochester. There are already plenty of first base and corner outfield options on the Twins roster including Joe Mauer, Byung Ho Park, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, and Oswaldo Arcia.

It seems hard to see him cracking the Opening Day roster unless the injury bug hits the team hard in Florida.

What are your thoughts on the signing? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Mr. 3000... Maybe Not

When the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an 8-year, $184 million contract after the 2010 season, the team had high hopes for their hometown star as he started to age at one of baseball's toughest positions. Mauer was coming off an MVP season in 2009 and batting titles in 2006, 2008, and 2009. It looked like Mauer was on pace to be one of the best hitting catchers of all time.

Things change and Mauer's career has taken a different turn in recent years. Twins fans are well aware that concussions caused him to be shifted from catcher to first base. With the shift has come a different version of Mauer at the plate. After being a .323/.405/.468 hitter through the first ten years of his career, Mauer's declined to the point where he's hit .270/.348/.376 over the last two seasons while averaging over 100 strikeouts for the first time in his career.

Mauer's Hall of Fame case looked to be in good standing when he was a perennial All-Star as an American League backstop. Unfortunately, a light hitting first baseman don't usually get inducted into Cooperstown.

One of the most important milestones for Mauer to reach could be the 3,000 hit mark. Only four members of the 3,000 hit club are not in the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose because of his lifetime ban from baseball, Rafael Palmeiro because of his steroid use, along with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez who are not yet eligible.

Mauer enters the 2016 season just three hits shy of 1,700 and he has been averaging just over 142 hits over the last three seasons. In fact, Baseball Reference has him projected to have exactly 142 hits this season. If Mauer could keep up that pace for the next nine years, he'd be just shy of the 3,000 hit total following his 21st season in the league. He'd be over 40 at the time and it's hard to know how players will age in the twilight of their careers.

Derek Jeter retired in 2014 when he was in his age 40 season. He actually led all of baseball with 216 hits in 2012 when he was 38 years old.  Alex Rodriguez is the only active member of the 3,000 hit club and he combined for 131 hits last year in his age 39 season.  This was his highest total since 2010 but he was suspended for the entire 2014 season.

Is it still possible for Mauer to reach the 3,000 hit plateau?

Anything is possible in the baseball world and there have been weirder things that have happened. It would take a resurgence from Mauer in the second-half of his career. He'd have to show the longevity to stay productive well through his 30s when the Twins might have younger more productive players ready to take over.

Ichiro Suzuki could join the club this season with 65 more hits. It seems more likely that players like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols, and Adrian Beltre will all have a better chance at joining the 3,000 hit club than Mauer. Pujols and Beltre are further into their careers but they are a both in striking distance. Cano is the same age as Mauer and he is over 300 hits ahead of him. Cabrera seems destined for 3,000 and he could end up with one of the best hit totals of all-time.

The Twins could always find a line-up spot for their hometown hero but the organization is trending upward and Mauer would need to continue to contribute to a team that is hopefully fighting for the playoffs. He can be a free agent after 2018 so the finances of keeping Mauer will also contribute to his long-term role with the club.

Mauer could end up being Mr. 3000 but maybe not...