Hunter a true thief

The box office success of Spiderman and Spiderman 2 undoubtedly has the producers thinking about yet another sequel. Should Tobey Maguire be unavailable for the third installment in the franchise, they could do a lot worse than cast Torii Hunter in the lead role.

Hunter, after all, could do his own stunts. He could leap walls and scale fences. He could display startling athleticism and do things few others could.

In other words, he could do all the things that he already does as the center fielder for the Minnesota Twins.

In a poll of major league executive and scouts, Hunter was the choice as the most acrobatic outfielder. Hunter may not be judged as the best pure center fielder in the game -- that honor would likely go to Atlanta's Andruw Jones and as an overall defender, Hunter may only be the equal of a handful of others, including St. Louis' Jim Edmonds and the New York Mets' Mike Cameron.

Others may come in on balls better. Still others may possess stronger arms.

But when it comes to spectacular, well-timed catches at -- or often, over -- the wall nobody does it better than Hunter.

"He has no fear -- and that's important,'' said one major league general manager. "There are a lot of outfielders who, when they feel the (warning) track coming up, get small. He gets big. When you play in Minnesota, you play on some hard turf and you know that you're going to have to give your body up. That doesn't bother him.''

Fearlessness, however, is just part of the equation. Athleticism is another.

"You can't do the things he does without being a great athlete and having great instincts,'' said another GM. "He's got that great first-step quickness, and takes good routes. That helps him time balls, which is a big part of it because you don't have much time to react.''

When it comes to highlight reel catches, Hunter, with six full major league seasons behind him, is perhaps best known for his spectacular catch in the 2002 All-Star Game, when he leaped high to take away a home run from Barry Bonds. Bonds shook his head in amazement, but for those who see the Twins regularly, the catch, if not routine, was not exactly out of the ordinary.

"Sometimes,'' said a scout, "it seems like he makes one of those a series.''

"He makes the 'bring-'em-back' catch as well anybody,'' marveled one American League advance scout.

In discussion after discussion with player personnel experts, a recurring theme emerged: Hunter wasn't compared to other baseball players as much as he was to athletes in other sports.

"When he goes up for one of those (patented catches),'' said a GM, "it's like the jump ball between a wide receiver and a defensive back. It's a matter of who wants the ball the most. Well, in this case, Hunter is the wide receiver and the wall is the defensive back.''

Hunter wins that one-on-one battle more often than not.

Said another GM: "He has NBA skills. He's agile and can go over the wall. He would be a tremendous rebounder (in basketball). He's like Dominique Wilkins would be if he had been a center fielder -- Dominique played over the rim; Torii plays over the wall.''

Beyond his extraordinary physical skills, Hunter also displays great instincts and awareness. He knows where he is -- in relation to the boundaries and the ball -- at all times.

"That's innate,'' offers one GM. "You either have that sense or you don't. There's a lot that goes into making those kinds of catches on a regular basis. They don't happen by accident. A lot of outfielders can occasionally make them. But to make them as often as Hunter, you really have to know what you're doing.''

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.