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Twins' top 5 catchers: Park's take

@dohyoungpark
March 23, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only ... if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Do-Hyoung Park's ranking of the top five catchers in Twins history since the franchise relocated to Minnesota in 1961. Next week: First basemen.

1) Joe Mauer, 2004-18
Key fact: Only American League catcher ever to win the batting title (did so three times)

Who else could possibly top this list? The former No. 1 overall pick gave the Twins everything they could have hoped for -- and then some -- in 15 seasons with his hometown team. The local kid from Cretin-Derham Hall High School lived up to the hype immediately as he burst onto the scene with a .308 average and .939 OPS as a 21-year-old rookie in 2004, launching one of the most productive multi-year runs as a catcher in baseball history. By the end of the 2013 season, he had amassed six All-Star Game appearances, five Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Glove Awards and the 2009 AL Most Valuable Player Award -- a season in which he hit a remarkable .365/.444/.587 with 28 homers while catching 109 games.

Though concussions forced a move to first base in later years, Mauer remained a serviceable hitter to the end and finished with a .306/.388/.439 line for his career. He finished atop the Twins' all-time list in doubles (428) and was second in games (1,858), hits (2,123) and walks (939) and, with help from Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter and Joe Nathan, anchored the AL Central championship teams of 2006, 2009 and 2010. And most importantly, he spent his entire career in the Twin Cities.

"This organization demonstrated to me the importance of giving back to the community and how the impact of the ballplayer goes well beyond the ballpark," Mauer said at his jersey retirement ceremony last June. "And the fans, they played a huge role in my career as well. Their cheers made me feel alive. Their disappointments pushed me to work hard. Their letters and fan mail and signs I could see from the field made me feel supported and proud to play here at home."

2) Earl Battey, 1961-67
Key fact: Held club record for most homers in a season as a catcher (26) until Mitch Garver in 2019

Battey was an important piece of the 1961 team that brought Major League Baseball to the Upper Midwest for the first time, and several years later, he was part of the first pennant-winning team in Minnesota Twins history as the backstop when the club advanced to the 1965 World Series. Playing on some of those power-laden Twins teams alongside Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, 1965 AL MVP winner Zoilo Versalles and outfielders Bob Allison, Jimmie Hall and Tony Oliva, Battey also made five All-Star teams and won three straight Gold Glove Awards from 1960-62.

His finest season came in 1963, when he clubbed a career-best 26 homers while hitting .285/.369/.476, good for a seventh-place finish in AL MVP Award voting. Though his power had faded by 1965, he still produced in a star-studded lineup, started the All-Star Game at Metropolitan Stadium and guided a stellar starting rotation of Mudcat Grant, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry and Camilo Pascual to 102 wins and the AL pennant. The Twins lost the World Series to Sandy Koufax and the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games.

3) Brian Harper, 1988-93
Key fact: Went 8-for-21 (.381) with two doubles and two walks in 1991 World Series

Harper was never an All-Star, never received MVP votes, never won a major award and found the only real consistency of his 16-year journeyman career in six seasons with the Twins from 1988-93. But he will always hold a place in Twins history for his contributions in 1991, when he hit .311/.336/.447 with 10 homers and 28 doubles in the regular season before he helped the club to a seven-game victory over the Atlanta Braves in one of the most dramatic World Series ever played.

Harper first drew the spotlight in Game 4, when he received a perfect relay throw from Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch and endured a massive collision with Lonnie Smith at home plate, holding on to the ball to secure an out. In Game 7, Harper not only caught all 10 innings of Jack Morris' legendary shutout, but also went 2-for-4 and turned the pivotal 3-2-3 double play with Kent Hrbek to end the eighth inning and squelch the Braves' most dangerous scoring threat of the game.

4) Tim Laudner, 1981-89
Key fact: Third most homers as a catcher in club history (74)

Laudner could never find meaningful offensive consistency during his career with the Twins, but he played the entirety of his nine-year career with the club and was part of the '87 team that won the club's first World Series championship in a seven-game victory over the Cardinals. Though Laudner posted a meager .225/.292/.391 line in his career, in that '87 World Series he went 7-for-22 (.318) with five walks, and he hit a homer and two-run single in the Twins' 8-4 win over St. Louis in Game 2. He made the only All-Star team of his career in 1988, when he hit .251/.316/.408 with 13 homers, one of four seasons in which he reached double digits in round-trippers. He lost his starting job to Harper in '89 and didn't appear in another Major League game beyond that season.

5) Butch Wynegar (1976-81, 1982)
Key fact: Youngest Twins player to appear in an All-Star Game (20 years, 121 days)

In 1974, the Twins drafted Wynegar in the second round of the MLB Draft out of Red Lion High School in Pennsylvania. In 1975, he played a full season at Class A Reno. In 1976, he was invited to Spring Training and somehow broke camp on the Major League roster. At the age of 20 years and 26 days, he remains the 10th-youngest player to have debuted for the Twins. Wynegar acclimated to the Majors so well that he was named to the 1976 AL All-Star team and finished second in voting for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. According to FanGraphs' calculation of WAR, Wynegar holds two of the 12 best seasons for a catcher in Twins history, with his 4.2 fWAR year in 1979 trailing only Battey's '63 campaign and six individual Mauer seasons.

Honorable mentions
One or two more prolific power shows could push Mitch Garver onto this list after he set a new club record with 30 homers and a remarkable .660 slugging percentage as a catcher in 2019. ... A.J. Pierzynski carved out a solid start to his career with a .301/.341/.447 line in six seasons with the Twins, but he was traded to the Giants for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser before the 2004 season to clear room on the Major League roster for Mauer's imminent arrival. ... George Mitterwald hit double-digit homers in three of his seven seasons with Minnesota.

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