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Torii among 3 first-time HOF-eligible Twins

@dohyoungpark
November 16, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Four players have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as members of the Minnesota Twins. Three fan favorites in Minneapolis will now get their chance to join that group. Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins became eligible for entrance to baseball's most exclusive fraternity

MINNEAPOLIS -- Four players have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as members of the Minnesota Twins. Three fan favorites in Minneapolis will now get their chance to join that group.

Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins became eligible for entrance to baseball's most exclusive fraternity on Monday, when they appeared on the 25-person ballot announced by the Hall of Fame committee for the first time. None are immediately likely to be selected for Cooperstown, but it's still very much a testament to the success and longevity of the trio of stars that was integral to the run of six division titles in nine years during the Metrodome Era.

Hall of Fame releases 2021 ballot

This group is all the more special to the Twins considering all three remain part of the organization as special assistants to baseball operations long after the conclusions of their playing careers. All three rejoined the Twins in 2016 after Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were hired to run the front office. Hawkins also serves as an occasional analyst on FOX Sports North telecasts of Twins baseball.

Hunter, Cuddyer and Hawkins are the first former Twins to appear on the ballot since 2018. Though former Twins Jack Morris and Jim Thome were inducted as part of the Class of 2018, no player has been enshrined in the Hall as a member of the Twins since Bert Blyleven in '11.

A five-time All-Star, two-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award and recipient of nine Gold Glove Awards over his 19-year career, Hunter is the likeliest of the three to remain on the ballot following his debut year. His standout defense as the Twins' long-time center fielder coupled with at least 20 homers in 11 of his final 15 seasons as he accumulated 353 homers, 498 doubles and 2,452 hits before retiring following his age-39 season in 2015.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Hunter spent his first 11 seasons in Minnesota and played in Anaheim for five years and Detroit for two before he returned to Minneapolis for his final season. He's fifth on the Twins' all-time list in homers and seventh in RBIs and extra-base hits. His 50.7 career WAR, per Baseball-Reference, ranks higher than both Omar Vizquel and Billy Wagner, who will return from the 2020 ballot.

It also helps that Hunter has a signature moment on the national stage, when he robbed Barry Bonds of a homer during the 2002 All-Star Game at Safeco Field as the only Twins outfielder to start a Midsummer Classic since Kirby Puckett.

Though Hunter has a solid resume for consideration, he could still have a fight to remain on the ballot beyond one year considering the voting history of Andruw Jones, another gifted offensive and defensive center fielder. Jones barely cleared the 5 percent of votes necessary to stay on the ballot in his first two years of eligibility before garnering more significant support in 2020 voting.

Cuddyer enjoyed 11 mostly strong years as a mainstay in the Twins' lineup and won a batting title in his three seasons with the Rockies before one year with the Mets following his departure from Minnesota. But the well-regarded outfielder and first baseman faces an uphill battle to stay on the ballot.

Cuddyer's 197 homers, 1,522 hits and 17.7 career WAR aren't on pace with other outfielders who have remained on the ballot in years past despite his two All-Star appearances and 2013 Silver Slugger Award. He ranks ninth on the Twins' all-time list in doubles and 11th in RBIs, enough to earn him a spot in the Twins Hall of Fame in '17. His best season for Minnesota came in '09, when he hit 32 homers with an .862 OPS and earned down-ballot MVP votes.

Hawkins is as deserving a reliever as any to be honored on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 21-year career that spanned nine seasons with Minnesota, and stints with the Rockies, Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Mets, Giants, Angels, Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles, including a spot in the bullpen for the 2007 Colorado team that won the National League pennant.

There's no better way to measure Hawkins' lengthy on-field contributions to the game than to note that his 1,042 career appearances (including 366 with the Twins) rank 10th among pitchers in MLB history. He began his career as an unsuccessful starter before transitioning to relief in 2000 as an important part of the bullpen that helped Minnesota to the '02 and '03 AL Central titles that snapped an 11-year playoff drought.

It was only after he left Minnesota that Hawkins found long-term consistency as a reliever and recorded most of his 127 career saves to go with a 4.31 ERA and 983 strikeouts in 1,467 1/3 innings -- though it remains difficult for most relievers to find a path to Cooperstown, particularly those without high save totals.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.