Likely Starter: Joe Mauer
2005 stats: .294/.372/.411, 9 HR, 55 RBI
Potential Backups: Mike Redmond, Chris Heintz, Shawn Wooten
In looking at the Twins' terrible offense last year, you can point to pretty much any position on the field as putting forth a disappointing offensive effort. The one position that you really can't say that about is catcher. Joe Mauer's knee held up and in his first full season at the Major League level in 2005 he hit .294 and posted an excellent .372 on-base percentage. The 9 home runs and relatively low slugging percentage of .411 were a little disappointing, but it's still good production for a catcher... particularly a 22-year-old catcher.
Hitting usually third in the order, Mauer did a terrific job, even if the statistics don't immediately indicate so. Granted, his 55 RBI seem pretty paltry. However, he did hit .331 with runners in scoring position, so it was a lack of opportunity--not performance--that led to this total. He struck out only 64 times while drawing 61 walks, a nearly even K:BB ratio. He doesn't have great speed, but he has outstanding base-running instincts, as evidenced by his ability to steal 13 bases while only being caught once.
Here's something really impressive: Mauer hit .364 with a 1.000 OPS on 0-2 counts last year. That's unbelievable.
Indeed, the level of poise and professionalism Mauer displays at the plate is extremely impressive, and leads one to believe that he's got a big year on tap for 2006. If he can add a little more power (which most believe he will), he could quickly elevate to being one of the league's elite hitters. I predict something along the lines of .300/.375/.450 with 15 home runs and 80 RBI. He is also one of (if not the) best defensive catchers in the league. He did an excellent job of handling the pitching staff last year, and he has a phenomenal arm. He threw out 43% of potential base-stealers in '05, an excellent percentage (compare that to 23% by noodle-arm A.J. Pierzynski).
Mauer wasn't the only one who provided solid offense at the catcher position in 2005. Mike Redmond was surprisingly effective in his back-up role. In 118 at-bats last year, Redmond hit .311/.350/.392. Like Mauer, he was outstanding in key situations, hitting .452 with RISP. He also went 5/6 on the year with the bases loaded.
Redmond hit very well against left-handed pitchers last year, posting a line of .345/.387/.414 against them. If Ron Gardenhire is wise, he will make a point of starting Redmond frequently against southpaws rather than Mauer, who hit just .225/.268/.246 against them. Of course, Gardy doesn't really seem to comprehend the concept of platooning, so I wouldn't hold my breath.
Presuming Mauer's knee continues to cause no problems, Redmond will be the only back-up the team needs. If someone gets hurt during the season, Chris Heintz and new acquisition Shawn Wooten should be available for call-up. Both are capable Major League players, but nothing special.
I'm expecting a big year from Mauer this year, and Redmond should once again prove to be a more than reliable back-up. Catcher is easily the team's strongest offensive position coming into the 2006 season.