Welcome back. This is the fourth and final installment of the Best Twins Position Players Since 2000.
If you missed any of the previous parts, here’s the rundown. From #20 to #16, we highlighted a mix of throwbacks as well as Twins players from more recent eras. Some more of the same across Nos. 15 to 11. As it turns out, two playoff teams in three years lends itself to having quite a few guys who are building healthy WAR totals, thus making their way onto this ranking.
Most recently, we took a look at #10 to #6. That leads us to the top five. Drumroll please...
(Note: If you would like to read the explanation of criteria for the ranking, follow the above link to Part One.)
No. 5 - Brian Dozier, 2012 to 2018
- Line of .248/.325/.447 with Twins
- All-Star in 2015, Gold Glove in 2017
Yours truly saw Brian Dozier play for the Low-A Beloit Snappers in summer of 2010. At that time, Dozier was a year removed from being an 8th-round draft pick and was coming off 264 plate appearances in rookie ball the previous with exactly zero home runs. Dozier finished that year with a .275/.350/.349 line between both levels of A-ball. That’s right — Brian Dozier slugged just .349.
The next year, Dozier’s OPS ballooned to .890 and he was suddenly on the prospect radar. After a less-impressive Triple-A campaign, he was given a chance with the big club in 2012 and ... didn’t impress there, either.
Dozier steadily improved over the next two years before a massive first-half of 2015 earned him his first and only All-Star nomination before a second-half crash led to a modest .236/.307/.444 line with 28 home runs. He still received a single point in the MVP voting as the Twins shocked everyone with an 83-win season under rookie manager Paul Molitor.
The next year was Dozier’s best, as he walloped 42 long-balls with a .886 OPS. In 2017, Dozier hit 34 homers to go along with a career-best on-base percentage of .359 along with his only Gold Glove award. The Twins bounced back after a disappointing 2016 and claimed a wild-card berth. But Dozier was traded to the L.A. Dodgers during the 2018 campaign, which was a disappointing season for both the Twins and Dozier individually.
No. 4 - Corey Koskie, 1998 to 2004
- Line of .248/.325/.447 with Twins
- All-Star in 2015, Gold Glove in 2017
The Canadian third baseman was picked in the 28th round in 1994 and rose through the Twins system with a full, season-long stop at each rung of the minor league. He had a cup of coffee with the big club in 1998 before becoming a regular the following year.
Koskie only saw 392 plate appearances in 1999 for the 63-97 Twins, but his .855 OPS was a career-best. As the century turned, however, Koskie remained remarkably consistent while adding power to his game. He had 26 home runs and 103 RBI in 2001 as the Twins barely missed the playoffs in Tom Kelly’s final year as manager.
The back-to-back-to-back division-winning squads from 2002 to 2004 relied heavily on Koskie to anchor the middle of the lineup. Over those three seasons, Koskie’s triple-slash came in at .271/.369/.463 while averaging 18 home runs per year.
He left for Toronto in free agency before the 2005 season and was traded to Milwaukee after just one season with the Blue Jays. Unfortunately, concussion problems ended Koskie’s career when he was just 33 years old.
Ron Gardenhire’s clubs had a revolving door for years following his departure, and Koskie goes down as one of the best third basemen to ever wear a Twins uniform.
No. 3 - Justin Morneau, 2003 to 2013
- Line of .278/.347/.485 with Twins
- 2006 MVP and 4x All-Star
From a Canadian at No. 4 to one at No. 3, we’ve arrived at Justin Morneau.
Morneau was originally drafted as a catcher but moved to first base relatively quickly in the minors. He moved fairly quickly through the organization and was called up in 2003, although he struggled in his first 100-plus at-bats in the majors.
He started 2004 in Triple-A and dominated to the tune of a .306/.377/.615 and 22 home runs in just 326 plate appearances before getting the call once again. He put up an .875 OPS in with the Twins and played in the playoffs as Minnesota won their third-straight A.L. Central title.
Morneau was ingrained as the starter at that point, although he had a tough 2005 as the Twins won just 83 games and missed the playoffs. But in 2006, Morneau hit .321/.375/.559 with 34 home runs and 130 RBI, winning the Most Valuable Player award and the A.L. Silver Slugger at first base.
That started a string of Morneau hitting 30 or more home runs in a season three times in four years, and the first baseman also made four consecutive All-Star teams beginning in 2007.
Morneau was having the best season of his career in 2010 as the Twins opened Target Field, leading the division midway through the summer. With an insane 1.055 OPS that included a .345 batting average and 18 homers in just 348 at-bats, Morneau went down with another concussion and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, Morneau never made another All-Star Game. The following year was basically a wash, and he had a year and a half of solid but unspectacular play with the Twins before he was shipped to Pittsburgh at the 2013 trade deadline. He played in the playoffs with the Pirates and bounced back to hit .316 in two seasons with the Colorado Rockies, even winning the N.L. batting title in 2014.
Morneau finished his career with the enemy combatant Chicago White Sox in 2016 and has been a special assistant in the Twins front office and part-time color analyst on Fox Sports North in his post-playing days.
No. 2 - Torii Hunter, 1997 to 2007, 2015
- Line of .268/.321/.462 with Twins
- 2x All-Star and 7x Gold Glove-winner with Twins
The line between Hunter at No. 2 and Morneau at No. 3 is razor-thin. Both were impactful offensive players, but while Morneau’s peak was significantly higher, his decline was much more precipitous. Coupled with Hunter’s fantastic defensive at a much more important position, and the edge goes to Torii.
Hunter was a first-round pick out of high school way back in 1993 and didn’t crack the big leagues until 1997 — when he appeared in a single game. As a pinch-runner. Hunter then played in just six games in 1998 and didn’t get a real shot at The Show until 1999, when he had an OPS of only .689 in 135 games.
Hunter split much of 2000 between Triple-A, where he dominated, and the majors, where he held his own. In 2001, he began to break out just as the Twins were beginning to do the same as a team. Hunter hit 27 home runs and won his first Gold Glove as Minnesota was in the division race until the final week of the season.
The 2002 season brought a division title, Hunter’s first All-Star campaign, another Gold Glove, a sixth-place finish in the MVP race, and arguably Hunter’s best offensive season in a Twins uniform. He hit .289/.334/.524 and swatted 29 home runs.
In a crowded American League outfield, Hunter didn’t make another All-Star team until 2007, his final year of his first go-round with the Twins, but won a Gold Glove every year. Then, he left for the Angels in free agency, making two more All-Star teams in five years there and another one in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.
At 39 years old, Hunter was signed by the Twins in 2015. He hit 22 home runs as the team’s regular right-fielder and helped Minnesota shock the baseball world. They won 83 games in what was also Brian Dozier’s aforementioned breakout season and Paul Molitor’s first as manager, but Hunter retired after the season and the team lost 103 games in 2016.
Similar to both Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, Hunter joined the Twins front office in an advisory/special assistant role and has done some games as an analyst on Fox Sports North broadcasts.
No. 1 - Joe Mauer, 2004 to 2018
- Line of .306/.388/.439
- 2009 MVP, 6x All-Star and 3x Gold Glove-winner
Was there ever any doubt?
We all know the story, but here are the high points: the hometown kid was drafted first-overall out of Cretin-Derham Hall in 2001. He hit .400 in 130 plate appearances in rookie ball and saw his batting line improve as he advanced from A-ball to Double-A to Triple-A.
Mauer broke into the big leagues in 2004, but hurt his knee in the second game of the season and missed nearly two months. Then, he was shut down in mid-July with a batting line of .308/.369/.570. It was a sign of things to come.
After a small step backwards in 2005 for both Mauer and the Twins as a whole, he won the American League batting title in 2006 with a .347 average, making the All-Star team, winning the Silver Slugger award, and finishing sixth in MVP voting while teammate Justin Morneau took home the hardware.
Mauer struggled with some injuries in 2007 and hit “just” .293/.382/.426, but bounced back in 2008 with another batting title and his first Gold Glove at catcher. Then, another one in 2009 when he ran away with MVP honors, hitting a ridiculous .365/.444/.587 with a career-high 28 home runs.
Mauer signed a then-record contract extension as the Twins moved to Target Field in 2010. He had a solid year, hitting .327 with an .871 OPS and another All-Star appearance as the Twins won the division, but he hit only nine home runs.
Then, concussion issues cropped up and Mauer played in just 82 games in 2011 as the Twins lost 99 games. He began a gradual position change over the next couple of seasons, making two more All-Star teams and leading the league in on-base percentage in 2012.
The Twins weren’t good, however, and Mauer spent three straight years with a sub-.300 batting average before reviving his career with a .305/.384/.417 line with 36 doubles as the Twins made the playoffs in 2017. But 2018 wasn’t as kind, and Mauer wound his career down with a lackluster batting line on a 78-84 club. (While the season was a disappointment, the send-off was anything but.)
Mauer is one of the best Twins players of all-time and already has his number retired by the franchise. There’s a Hall-of-Fame case to be made for Mauer, and he’s the only player on this list with a realistic shot at making his way into Cooperstown.