MINNEAPOLIS -- Elite seasons in baseball come in all manner of varieties, from power shows that lead to home run crowns, to pure hitting ability that helps in a chase for a .400 batting average, to well-rounded seasons that feature a wide array of tools.
Twins fans have been fortunate to see all of the above from their franchise stars since the club moved to Minnesota in 1961, with Hall of Famers and winners of major awards accounting for exemplary campaigns from all around the diamond. Here are our picks for the best individual season from each position in Twins history.
C: Joe Mauer, 2009
Key stats: .365/.444/.587, 28 homers, 30 doubles, won batting title and American League MVP Award
No other catcher's season comes close to Mauer's 2009 AL MVP campaign, when the hometown kid not only showed off his ability to hit for average, but he also added the power element that pushed him into rarefied air. It didn't initially have the makings of a historic year when Mauer missed the first month with a back injury, but he broke out in May with a 1.338 OPS and 11 homers, two shy of the most he hit in any other season.
Mauer's production helped push the Twins to an AL Central title, and he also earned plenty of personal accolades for the feat, including his second Gold Glove Award, his third Silver Slugger Award and his third batting title -- the most by a catcher in MLB history. His 170 wRC+ ranks second among all catcher seasons in MLB history.
1B: Rod Carew, 1977
Key stats: .388/.449/.570, 14 homers, 38 doubles, 16 triples, 23 steals, won batting title and AL MVP Award
On June 26, 1977, the Twins beat the White Sox, 19-12, but the crowd's attention belonged to Carew, who captivated a massive audience at Metropolitan Stadium by going 4-for-5 while scoring five runs and driving in six. That's because Carew entered the day 110-for-278 on the season, good for a .396 batting average. With a double in his first at-bat and a single in his next, Carew climbed to .400 for the first time -- and everyone in the ballpark knew it.
Though Carew didn't finish the season above the legendary mark, he appeared on the July 18 cover of TIME Magazine under the headline, "Baseball's Best Hitter," and was pictured alongside Ted Williams on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In the end, a .388 average netted Carew his sixth batting title, as he also led the Majors with 239 hits.
2B: Chuck Knoblauch, 1996
Key stats: .341/.448/.517, 13 homers, 35 doubles, 14 triples, 45 steals
Knoblauch received eight measly AL MVP votes in 1996, despite finishing with a higher Wins Above Replacement total, per Baseball-Reference, than everyone but second-place finisher Alex Rodriguez and fourth-place finisher Ken Griffey Jr.
Perhaps if the old-school mindset fixated on homers and RBIs hadn't still been king, Knoblauch would have garnered more national recognition for his remarkably well-rounded season, when he not only posted the eighth-highest batting average in Twins history and paced the AL in triples, but also swiped the third-most bags in Minnesota history.
SS: Zoilo Versalles, 1965
Key stats: .273/.319/.462, 19 homers, 45 doubles, 12 triples, won AL MVP Award
This was a rare case in which a player won an MVP Award despite relatively low homer and RBI totals, largely because the 1965 Twins won the AL pennant and fell to the Dodgers in seven games in the World Series. Versalles and teammate Tony Oliva finished first and second in AL MVP voting, and pitcher Mudcat Grant and catcher Earl Battey joined them in the top 10.
Versalles had been a solid player for several seasons and didn't post spectacular offensive numbers, but he led the AL with 45 doubles and 12 triples and also posted a career-high 27 steals as the leadoff man for the best team in the AL. It also helped that he had a strong defensive reputation and won his second Gold Glove Award, which also helped him earn the highest WAR by a position player in the AL that year.
3B: Harmon Killebrew, 1969
Key stats: .276/.427/.584, 49 homers, 145 walks, 20 intentional walks, won AL MVP Award
Killebrew's 49 homers in a season still stand as the most in Twins history all these years later. In fact, Brian Dozier and Nelson Cruz are the only other Twins to have eclipsed the 40-homer mark, and neither has come close to unseating Killebrew.
The slugger had previously led the AL in homers five times, but the difference in 1969 was that his walk total ballooned to a career-high 145 (that's not to mention his AL-leading 20 intentional walks), which contributed to a career-high .427 on-base percentage. Killebrew led the AL in homers for the sixth and final time and won his only MVP Award, beating out Boog Powell and Frank Robinson of the Orioles.
LF: Shane Mack, 1992
Key stats: .315/.394/.467, 16 homers, 31 doubles, 26 steals
Though Mack won the '91 World Series with the Twins, he remains one of the more underrated outfielders in club history, as he derived plenty of value with a solid eye at the plate, strong hit and power tools and even some speed.
That all came together in '92, when Mack held down left field following the departure of Dan Gladden and finished second on the club in average, homers and doubles (all to Kirby Puckett) and trailed only Knoblauch with his 26 stolen bases. Mack had better slugging ability in '91 and was off to his strongest start yet in the strike-shortened '94 season, but 1992 was when things all came together.
CF: Kirby Puckett, 1988
Key stats: .356/.375/.545, 24 homers, 42 doubles
Of all the elite seasons the Hall of Famer and franchise icon gave the Twins in center field, '88 stands out above the rest as the season with Puckett's highest batting average (.356, trailing AL batting champion Wade Boggs by 10 points), slugging percentage (.545) and OPS (.920) while playing his customary Gold Glove defense in the outfield.
Puckett's 234 hits led the Majors, and though he didn't win the AL batting title, he owned the highest average by a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio's 1941 season. It still didn't net him the AL MVP Award, but he claimed his third straight Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.
RF: Tony Oliva, 1964
Key stats: .323/.359/.557, 32 homers, 43 doubles, 12 steals, won batting title and AL Rookie of the Year Award
There's also a good argument to be made here for Bob Allison's 1963 campaign, but this list wouldn't have been complete without Oliva's historic '64 campaign, during which he led the AL in average, hits, runs, doubles and total bases and cranked 32 homers as the runaway winner of the AL Rookie of the Year Award in his first full season as a big leaguer.
In fact, Oliva and Ichiro Suzuki remain the only players in MLB history to win a batting title as a rookie -- and Ichiro came to the States following a decorated career in Japan. Oliva's breakout consolidated a fearsome lineup that already featured Killebrew, Allison, Versalles, Jimmie Hall and Don Mincher and set the stage for the club's first AL pennant in '65. Oliva went on to lead the AL in hits in four of the next six seasons.
DH: Nelson Cruz, 2019
Key stats: .311/.392/.639, 41 homers, 26 doubles
Designated hitter had been a revolving door for the Twins for quite some time, until Cruz was signed to consolidate the position and anchor the lineup for a club that hoped to contend for division championships. He exceeded all expectations.
Though he celebrated his 39th birthday during the season, Cruz led all Twins with his 41 homers and 1.031 OPS from the heart of a lineup that set the Major League record for homers in a season, setting career highs in homers, slugging percentage and OPS despite his advancing age. He followed that up by again leading Minnesota in homers (25) and OPS (.992) in '20 while playing the shortened 60-game season at age 40.
SP: Bert Blyleven, 1973
Key stats: 20-17, 2.52 ERA, 25 complete games, 9 shutouts, 258 strikeouts, 2.32 FIP
Not only did Blyleven not win the AL Cy Young Award for his '73 season, but he didn't even come close, as he finished seventh in voting behind six pitchers who didn't come close to his 9.7 bWAR, the highest by a pitcher in Twins history.
It wasn't so much his fault: The '73 Twins were a mediocre team that dealt him 17 losses, even though he struck out a career-high 258 batters in 325 innings (unthinkable in today's game) among 40 starts, including 25 complete games and nine shutouts. Johan Santana's 2004, '05 and '06 seasons were also considered for this spot.
RP: Joe Nathan, 2006
Key stats: 36 saves, 1.58 ERA, 1.68 FIP
This could have gone to either Nathan's 2004 or '06 campaigns, but it's tough to argue with a 1.68 FIP and 0.79 WHIP alongside 95 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings. Here's what Nathan did as the Twins held off a furious charge from the Tigers in September: 12 appearances with only three hits and one run allowed.
Though it wasn't a save situation, Nathan himself took care of the final three outs of the regular season on Oct. 1, securing Minnesota's AL Central title. He finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting that year.