The 2001 MLB Draft could be labeled as a success, if for no other reason than bringing Joe Mauer to the Twin Cities. In 2001, the Twins focused on a thick crop of prep talent, as their first four picks were fresh out of high school.
So far, it looks as if two of those first four picks are bound for successful major league careers. Let’s take a look at the notable picks in the 2001 Draft:
1st Round (1st overall) – Joe Mauer, C
Despite the criticism this pick received, I’d say things have worked out fairly well for the Twins.
Minnesota passed over USC super-star Mark Prior, who many viewed as the best prospect available. The Twins instead took home-town boy Joe Mauer because they feared that Prior wouldn’t sign with them.
In hind-sight, this was obviously a smart decision on Minnesota’s part because of the dominance of Mauer and the injury trouble of Prior, but I think it’s safe to assume that decision was made based on signability issues, not because they thought Mauerwould be the better pick or because they foresaw any mechanical problems in Prior.
Prior actually had an incredible few years in the major leagues with the Cubs. He finished seventh in Rookie-of-the-Year voting in 2002, and third in Cy Young voting the next year. Even after several seasons plagued with injury, Prior has a career 3.51 ERA while averaging a very impressive 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
If he would have avoided any health problems, there is little doubt that Prior would have been one of the best pitchers in the league.
But picking Mauer was obviously the right decision, regardless of the Twins’ motivation at the time. After just six seasons, Mauer is certainly in thick of the “Best Catcher” discussion.
Having won an unprecedented three batting titles, Mauer was awarded with his first (and hopefully not last) MVP Award following the 2009 season, where he hit .365/.444/.587 with 28 home runs in just 138 games.
3rd Round (77th overall) – Jose Morales, SS
Drafted as a catcher, Morales was eventually moved behind the plate. The young switch-hitter has never displayed much power, but has managed to put up excellent on-base-percentages during his last few years in the minor leagues.
He has repeated Triple-A for a few years, but this is more a result of his path to the Twins being blocked (see: Mauer, Joe) than his inability to hit.
Morales made his major-league debut in 2007, when both Mauer and Mike Redmond were dealing with injuries. Morales went 3-for-3 in the game, but injured himself in the fifth inning while running the bases, which put an abrupt end to his season.
This year, Morales was slated to be Mauer’s backup, but he required wrist surgery last month and will be out until mid-March.
13th Round (377th overall) – Kevin Cameron, RHP
Cameron was drafted by the Twins out of the Georgie Institute of Technology. While with the Twins, Cameron worked his way through the system as a relief pitcher while posting great ERAs and a respectable strikeout-per-nine ratio.
He played the 2006 season with the Rochester Red Wings, but before he was promoted the Padres snagged him as a Rule Five pick.
29th Round (857th overall) – Nick Blackburn, RHP
After watching Blackburn for three years, it’s hard to believe that other teams collectively found over 850 players who they thought would have more successful careers than this right-handed pitcher out of Seminole State University.
Blackburn just finished his second full major-league season in 2009, posting a 4.03 ERA while making a reputation for himself with incredible control of his pitches.
Despite having college experience, Blackburn slowly progressed through the Twins’ minor-league system. He never put up flashy strikeout totals, but he consistently managed to get opposing batters out. He will probably never be a star, but Blackburn is very capable of filling the middle of any major-league rotation.