Joe Mauer busted out with a monster season in 2006, hitting .347/.429/.507 and placing sixth in the American League MVP voting as a 23-year-old. It's pretty tough to find anything to criticize from Mauer's offensive game last year. He hit for a stellar average. He showed excellent patience at the plate. He came through in the clutch. He hit extremely well against both lefties and righties. Still, if there was one aspect of his game that could stand to imrpove, it would have to be his power.
By no means did Mauer show a complete lack of power last year, as 13 home runs and 36 doubles are certainly nothing to scoff at. Yet many feel that if he could add some more power to his bat, it would really help round out his offensive game and turn him into an even bigger threat in the Twins' lineup. Scouts and fans alike have frequently speculated that Mauer's ability to hit for power will increase as he ages, and there is solid evidence to support that notion. For today's post, I thought it might be interesting to look into how quickly we can expect his power to elevate, and how high it might go.
When Mauer first broke into the big leagues as a 21-year-old in 2004, he hit six home runs in 107 at-bats. That might not seem like anything too special, but it was actually quite a shock for those who followed his three-year minor league career. In 1,030 at-bats between four levels of minor-league ball between 2001-2003, Mauer hit just nine home runs. His career minor-league slugging percentage was just .426, which is especially paltry when you consider that it goes along with a .332 batting average. That's good for an Isolated Power of under .100. Simply put, Mauer's minor-league numbers did not give indications that he'd hit for much power in the big leagues.
Mauer's first full season in the majors, 2005, seemingly proved that his six-home-run outburst in that injury-shortened 2004 campaign was a bit of a fluke. In 489 at-bats, Mauer hit just 26 doubles and nine home runs for a pedestrian .411 slugging percentage. Still, while it might not have been an improvement rate-wise, Mauer did increase his homer and double totals from the previous year. That trend continued last year, when he hit 36 doubles and 13 home runs over 521 at-bats. His outstanding .507 slugging percentage is a bit misleading, because it was mostly due to his ridiculously high batting average. His Isolated Power was .160, which is nothing to write home about but it's also a tremendous improvement from his minor-league days and even from his 2005 campaign in the majors.
As many scouts predicted early on, Mauer's ability to hit for power has shown steady improvement as he's aged. So what can we expect within a few years? I don't see Mauer ever hitting 30+ dingers, because his swing is not really conducive to that type of home run power. I do, however, see him as capable of putting the ball in the bleachers around 20 times per season once he hits his prime, and I also see him racking up 45-50 doubles thanks to his ability to slap the ball into the gaps and lace it down the baselines.
A guy who can slug like that while hitting for a .340 average and playing an extremely valuable defensive position has MVP written all over him.