The Twins' 5 best homegrown Draft picks

February 15th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Look around the current Twins clubhouse, and you'll see that most of the core of this contending team that won consecutive division titles was accumulated from the international game -- from Japanese ace Kenta Maeda to German right fielder Max Kepler to Dominican infielders Miguel Sanó and Jorge Polanco to a host of American players drafted and developed by the Twins.

While international talent is steadily becoming a more important part of every Major League roster, much of the young talent entering the game still comes from the ranks of the amateur draft, which allows domestic players at the high school and collegiate levels to take their first steps towards their Major League dreams.

The Twins, like many teams, have had their share of misses in the Draft -- but they have also derived many of their most enduring franchise legends from it. Let's take a look back at the five most successful homegrown players in club history.

1) Kirby Puckett (1982, Round 1)

Puckett is responsible for one of the most iconic moments in franchise history with his walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, but his Hall of Fame journey began well off the beaten path at a small school called Triton College just southeast of O'Hare International Airport on the outskirts of Chicago.

Considering Puckett measured only 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds at the end of his playing career, his small stature wouldn't have naturally led scouts to believe that he would have such a distinguished MLB career as a power hitter ahead of him. As detailed by Baseball America, Twins assistant farm director Jim Rantz was watching his son play when he laid eyes on Puckett, an unknown ballplayer at Bradley University who transferred to Triton following the death of his father.

With only Rantz having seen Puckett play in person, the Twins went out of their way to grab him with the third pick of the 1982 Draft. And after an extended negotiation, Puckett began the Twins career that saw him win two World Series titles, six Gold Glove Awards, a batting title and a spot in Cooperstown -- along with the hearts of countless Minnesota fans.

2) Bert Blyleven (1969, Round 3)

As a longtime Dodgers fan in Southern California during his childhood, the Dutchman modeled his signature curveball after that of Sandy Koufax, but it was the Twins who snapped him up in the third round of the 1969 Draft out of Santiago High School in the Anaheim, Calif., area. He was in the big leagues a year later as a 19-year-old -- and there was no real doubt that he belonged, considering his 3.18 ERA in 27 appearances (including 25 starts) that season. It was the highest ERA he would own over the next seven seasons with Minnesota.

He was traded away and spent time with Texas, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, but he eventually returned to the Twin Cities in 1985 -- just in time to help anchor the '87 rotation that brought Minnesota the first World Series championship in club history. He allowed four earned runs in 13 innings across two starts in that Fall Classic and stayed on through the '88 season before returning home to Southern California to finish his career. He's the only pitcher enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a member of the Twins.

3) Joe Mauer (2001, Round 1)

It's a story that many Minnesotans know quite well. Mauer was the hometown kid, the star three-sport athlete in football, baseball and basketball at Cretin-Derham Hall who lapped his peers in just about everything on the diamond. He famously struck out only once throughout his entire high school career thanks to his keen eye and his quick, balanced swing. He was such a talented all-around athlete that he was, in fact, committed to Bobby Bowden's Florida State football program until the stars aligned and his hometown Twins nabbed him with the first overall pick in 2001.

It's safe to say Mauer probably made the right choice. The Twins cleared the path for him at catcher by trading away A.J. Pierzynski before the 2004 season, and that's when Mauer began his 15-year career -- all with the Twins -- and won three batting titles, three Gold Glove Awards, five Silver Slugger Awards and an MVP Award along the way, with a peak unparalleled by most backstops in the history of the game. He's likely on a path to strong Hall of Fame consideration, and it began as one of three No. 1 picks in Twins history.

4) Brad Radke (1991, Round 8)

Radke wasn't a flashy prospect. Pitching as a high schooler in the hotbed of baseball talent in Florida, he only touched 90 mph with his fastball -- portending the pitch-to-contact approach he used for most of his career -- but, as detailed in The Athletic, the steadfast conviction of area scout Jeff Schugel in Radke's projectability and easy delivery led the Twins to take an eighth-round flyer on the right-hander. Who knows how different those turn-of-the-century Twins teams would have been if they hadn't?

Upon Radke's debut in 1995, he became a bright spot on some bad Minnesota teams and was fortunately around long enough to watch the franchise turn around, with the opportunity to enjoy three consecutive division championships from 2002-04 and another in his final season in '06. He pitched through debilitating pain to the end -- with a 4.32 ERA that last season, no less -- due to serious problems in his shoulder. He posted a 4.22 ERA across 12 seasons, all with the Twins, making him one of eight players who spent the entirety of a 10-plus-year career with Minnesota. His nine Opening Day starts still mark a club record.

5) Kent Hrbek (1978, Round 17)

Either way, Hrbek was going to remain a hometown kid. After growing up in the suburb of Bloomington, Minn., in the shadow of Metropolitan Stadium, Hrbek had his choice between college ball at the University of Minnesota or signing with the Twins, who had taken him in the middle rounds of the 1978 Draft. And though Hrbek was, by far, the latest selection on this list, he made as big a mark as anyone in club history.

Hrbek joined Puckett as a fixture on both the 1987 and '91 World Series title teams, clubbing a decisive grand slam in Game 6 of the '87 Fall Classic against the Cardinals and playing a significant role in the '91 version with both his 3-2-3 double play in Game 7 that preserved Jack Morris' shutout and the controversial tag of Ron Gant in Game 2, which most Minnesotans will solemnly swear came as a result of Gant's momentum taking him off the first-base bag. Across 14 seasons with the Twins, Hrbek's 293 homers in a Minnesota uniform rank second in club history.