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Thursday, February 21, 2002
So far, Twins like what they see of top pick Mauer

Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins wouldn't have used the top pick in last summer's draft to take Joe Mauer if they weren't sold on the teen-ager.

But his conduct since then has left the biggest impression on the team.

"He came into the Metrodome and we put him in a batting practice group," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "It was a situation where he could have been intimidated pretty well. But he came out and didn't try to hit home runs, didn't try to hit the baggy. He hit line drive after line drive after line drive. You don't see that very often."

Mauer's skills aren't ready for the rigor of the major leagues, but everyone thinks his maturity is.

"Joe's going to do very well," Gardenhire said. "He's the kind of kid you love having around. You don't want to play him as much as manager, because he might impress too many people who'll start saying you should keep him."

At 18, Mauer sure doesn't act like any kind of hotshot rookie.

"I don't think there's any question he was raised right," said general manager Terry Ryan. "There's a certain maturity level that is advanced. He's been courted by top-notch football coaches and he's been evaluated by scouts throughout the course of the last three or four years. He's had a lot of exposure to things that your normal teen-ager wouldn't be exposed to."

The Twins have paired Mauer with veteran Tom Prince, who's 37 but looks even more than that this year with his new mustache and in the joking words of Gardenhire is "older than dirt." Their clubhouse cubicles are next to each other, and they're in the same workout group during practice.

"He's a very mature man," Prince said of Mauer. "He goes about his business right."

He signed a contract with a signing bonus worth $5.15 million, but Mauer still speaks much like he did last season as a senior at St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall. Politely, without a trace of arrogance.

"I'm having a good time. Meeting all the guys has been great," Mauer said. "Pretty weird to think that last year, I was playing basketball for my high school team."

Mauer, who hit .400 in 32 games for Elizabethton in the rookie-level Appalachian League, will start in Single-A this season. The Twins are wary, though, of trying to push him through the minors too fast.

"Anybody who's been around him I think understands there's a reason he was the first pick in the country," Ryan said. "But even though he gets all this attention, he's in a major league camp, he had a nice summer last year at Elizabethton, he is 18 and we've got to make sure we don't sidetrack his development and make sure he succeeds."

Mauer may have his own ideas about when he'd like to make it to the big leagues, but he's not letting on.

"I have no idea," Mauer said. "I'm just trying to go out there and carry myself well. All the players here were No. 3 or 4 hitters in high school. It's a lot different."

Game notes
The Twins have 49 players in camp and only two non-roster invitees, infielders David Lamb and Ruben Salazar, who had yet to show up by Thursday, so they're moving up their first full-squad workout a day to Friday. Gardenhire said it was the first time in his 12 seasons the team has done that. ... Bench coach Steve Liddle became something of a local hero this week when he killed with a shovel a rabid raccoon that had bitten one of his neighbors. A large part of Lee County is under a public health alert because of seven unprovoked raccoon attacks on humans since January. ... Doug Mientkiewicz, discussing the many Twins who make Fort Myers or a nearby town their offseason home, said talk of contraction prompted his wife, Jodi, to obtain her real estate license this winter. "There would've been a lot of houses to sell," Mientkiewicz said. ... Joe Mays got the largest salary increase among arbitration-eligible players. After making $260,000 last year, the 26-year-old right-hander received a 19-fold hike to an average of $5 million under a $20 million, four-year contract.