5 Minnesota Twins Their young, spunky lineup returns mostly intact. Is that a good thing?

March 26, 2001

It says something about the Twins that the one player who
received substantial celebrity attention during the winter was a
guy who had been banished to Triple A Salt Lake City for
virtually the entire 2000 season. But Doug Mientkiewicz was
seemingly everywhere over the winter: at ESPN's Players Choice
Awards; taking a limo ride through Manhattan with his childhood
hero; appearing on the game show Sex Wars, where he was quizzed
on subjects like Monica Lewinsky's line of purses (a question
his team answered correctly, he'll have you know).

After hitting .229 with just 32 RBIs in 118 games as a rookie two
years ago, Mientkiewicz avoided a sophomore jinx in 2000, but
only because he got pink-slipped to the minors two weeks before
the end of spring training. In Utah, however, he rediscovered his
stroke and earned a place on the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic
team, for whom he hit two walk-off homers, including a solo shot
against Korea in the semifinals. Those heroics made the
27-year-old first baseman something of a celeb. At SI's Sportsman
of the Year awards show, he hobnobbed with another Olympian,
hockey player Mike Eruzione, an athlete Mientkiewicz had idolized
while growing up in Toledo. "I remember watching the [1980]
Olympics on my shag carpet in Ohio and getting teary-eyed," says
Mientkiewicz, whose family had season tickets for the Toledo Gold
Diggers, Eruzione's pre-Olympic minor league outfit. "That's the
biggest thing that stuck out in my mind as a kid: Mike standing
on the gold medal stand."

With the front office's decision not to re-sign Ron Coomer,
Mientkiewicz showed up this spring secure in the knowledge that
the first baseman's job was his. He isn't the only Twin more at
ease in 2001. "There's an optimism in [manager] Tom Kelly that
hasn't been there in a few years," says lefthanded pitcher Eric
Milton. "Usually he's not much of a rah-rah, talkative,
give-you-a-lot-of-praise kind of guy." The reason for the change
is fairly simple. "We have people in position," says Kelly,
launching into a recitation of the Twins lineup a full three
weeks before Opening Day. "I haven't been able to say that in a
long time. This isn't like previous spring trainings, where we'd
hold a tryout camp."

Another reason for Kelly's upbeat spring is owner Carl Pohlad's
uncharacteristic willingness to loosen the purse strings.
Minnesota locked up Milton for four years at $21 million in
February, seven months after signing Brad Radke to a four-year,
$36 million extension. If nothing else, the Twins boast a
righty-lefty combo that includes a former 20-game winner and the
owner of a perfect game. Milton, who twirled the no-no against
Anaheim in 1999, allowed just 11.5 base runners per nine innings
last season, the fifth-best average in the league.

Aside from Mientkiewicz, the only newcomer to the starting lineup
is 21-year-old second baseman Luis Rivas. The lithe, 5'10",
175-pounder has surprising pop in his bat but is still unpolished
in the field. The same can't be said for Mientkiewicz, who led
American League first basemen in fielding percentage in '99. And
he's finally started to hit: In addition to batting .334 in Salt
Lake City, he showed signs that he could handle major league
pitching. After returning from Sydney in September, he put
together multihit performances in each of the Twins' final three
games. (He didn't have more than two consecutive multihit games
in '99.) The lefty is no threat to hit more than 15 homers, but
these days that's par for the course in the Twin Cities, where
most of those old Homer Hankies are being used as crying towels.
Last year the Twins were the only major league team without a
player who hit 20 homers.

Even if he's not the second coming of Kent Hrbek, Mientkiewicz
has a good enough stick to solidify the Twins lineup. "Being sent
down was the best thing that could have happened to me," he says.
"Before, I was just trying to be a big league player. Now I'm
really concerned about getting the team to .500 or better."

He and the Twins still have quite a ways to go, but they finally
seem pointed in the right direction.

--M.B.

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER After his memorable Olympic run put him on the map, first baseman Mientkiewicz got his Twins career pointed in the right direction. COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT JORDAN LEVY MILTON

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Twins

If good teams come to Minnesota not ready to play, the Twins can
pick them off in a series. Winning 75 to 81 games and moving up
a notch in the standings is a reasonable goal...They have
quietly built a half-decent pitching staff, especially with Brad
Radke and Eric Milton at the top of the rotation. I'll take
Milton's next five years over Radke's. Joe Mays is maturing.
Matt Kinney looks like he could be a good middle-of-the-rotation
pitcher. I want to see Mark Redman have another year like last
year before I'm sold...The bullpen is pretty good. Every team
wants Eddie Guardado...With the exception of Cristian Guzman and
Matt Lawton, they don't have top position players. They're
desperate for a big RBI guy. They have a bunch of number 6 to 8
hitters with no real upside...They have to hope that one of
three guys emerges with some power this year: Doug
Mientkiewicz--and I don't see that happening--or Corey Koskie or
David Ortiz. Ortiz is the wild card. He's got huge raw power,
but that hasn't translated into game production...Their outfield
defense is good, with Lawton, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter and
John Barnes, a kid who can help them as a fourth
outfielder...Luis Rivas is a Randy Velarde-type player, a
doubles hitter...Stale is a perfect word for Tom Kelly. He's
proved he can win with good players, but maybe he should be with
another club and let a young, energetic guy take the kids and
grow with them. Kelly ran Todd Walker out of town, and he's
never been known for giving young kids a lot of leash.

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 69-93 (fifth in AL Central)
Manager: Tom Kelly (16th season with Minnesota)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

SS Cristian Guzman S-R 151 .247 8 54 28
2B Luis Rivas (R) R 275 .310 0 6 2
RF Matt Lawton L-R 77 .305 13 88 23
DH David Ortiz L 209 .282 10 63 1
3B Corey Koskie L-R 226 .300 9 65 5
CF Torii Hunter R 232 .280 5 44 4
LF Jacque Jones L 116 .285 19 76 7
1B Doug Mientkiewicz* L-R 176 .334 18 96 9
C A.J. Pierzynski L-R 307 .307 2 11 1

BENCH

IF Denny Hocking S-R 270 .298 4 47 7
IF Jay Canizaro R 343 .269 7 40 4
C Tom Prince[1] R 380 .238 2 16 1
OF Brian Buchanan (R) R 391 .232 1 8 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Brad Radke 60 12 16 6.7 1.38 4.45
LH Eric Milton 71 13 10 6.1 1.25 4.86
LH Mark Redman 170 12 9 5.7 1.41 4.76
RH Joe Mays 182 7 15 5.6 1.62 5.56
RH Matt Kinney 322 2 2 5.3 1.56 5.10

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH LaTroy Hawkins 62 2 5 14 1.33 3.39
RH Bob Wells 171 0 7 10 1.10 3.65
LH Eddie Guardado 206 7 4 9 1.30 3.94
LH Travis Miller 331 2 3 1 1.72 3.90
LH J.C. Romero 339 2 7 0 1.77 7.02
LH Johan Santana 350 2 3 0 1.81 6.49
RH Jamie Brewington[1] 353 3 0 0 1.65 5.36

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Triple A stats

"They're desperate for a big RBI guy. They have a bunch of
number 6 to 8 hitters."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)