Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/19/12
PROJECTED STARTER Joe Mauer, .287 BA, 3 HRs, 30 RBIs in 2011 Mauer is a three-time batting champion and a former American League MVP. But the Minnesota Twins' star catcher was a shell of himself in 2011. Mauer batted a career-low .287 and slugged just .368, also the lowest of his eight-year career. Most notably, Mauer played in just 82 games due to numerous injuries, including bilateral leg weakness. But after recovering from pneumonia at the end of the 2011 season, Mauer is finally healthy again as is evident by the amount of time he's spent on the field this spring in Fort Myers. Through Sunday, Mauer had played in 10 games and is 7-for-26 with five RBIs. "I'm surprisingly feeling pretty good at the plate," Mauer said earlier this month. "My goal in spring training is to get on time for a fastball, control and not get so jumpy. Just kind of get on time for a fastball and go from there." Mauer threw out 26 percent of base runners in both 2009 and 2010, but that number improved to 30 percent in 2011 despite the injuries he dealt with. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is confident in Mauer's ability to throw runners out, as he's done already this spring. "Joe can throw. When he's out there on the field and feeling good, he's got a cannon. We all know that," Gardenhire said. "He's feeling good. You can see it. He's moving around good, he's swinging good. He's doing everything. As I said, he didn't have any surgeries this offseason. We're good." In order to preserve his surgically repaired knee, Mauer spent some time in 2011 at first base something he had never done in his career prior to last season. He also played one game at first base. But Mauer continues to insist that he's a catcher, although he's willing to do whatever the team needs from him. If Mauer's healthy, there's no doubt he'll be the Twins' catcher for the majority of their games in 2012. Minnesota is now hoping he can put the 2011 season behind him and return to the player he was during his MVP season in 2009 or even his 2010 season, when he batted .327 with nine homers and 75 RBIs. "It's been fun watching how he prepares and goes about his business," said Mauer's new teammate and fellow catcher Ryan Doumit. "I think we're going to have a very good relationship over here." PROJECTED BACKUPS Ryan Doumit, .303 BA, 8 HRs, 30 RBIs in 2011 (with Pittsburgh); Drew Butera, .167 BA, 2 HRs, 23 RBIs in 2011 The Twins signed Doumit this offseason because they like the versatility he brings to the field. Although he's a natural catcher, Doumit can also play first base and the outfield. He provides more offense than Butera, who was Mauer's No. 1 backup the past two seasons. Because of Mauer's injuries, Butera played in 93 games last year but didn't bat his weight he hit only .167 with 23 RBIs. The Twins like what Butera provides defensively, however, and they'll likely carry three catchers on their roster. "I'm going to use Doumit, so it's almost a given but not totally a given," Gardenhire said of keeping three catchers. "Because I'm going to use him a lot in the lineup. I'm counting on him in the lineup, along with Joe. So when you play both catchers, I'm trying to see if there's anyway around keeping three, but it's really hard for me to do that." OTHER AL CENTRAL STARTERS Alex Avila (Tigers); Brayan Pena (Royals); A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox); Carlos Santana (Indians) Santana has only spent two years in the majors, but he had a breakout season in 2011. The 25-year-old Indians catcher hit 27 homers and drove in 79 runs while playing in 155 games for Cleveland last year. He's versatile, playing 66 games at first base for the Indians last season. He should be one of the fun young players to watch in the division. Avila also had a breakout season in 2011, earning his first All-Star nod. He batted .295 with 19 homers in 141 games. Pierzynski, the former Twins catcher, will be 35 this season, but he still batted .287 with eight homers for the White Sox a year ago. Pena might be the least productive offensive catcher of all five staters. He's a career .251 hitter in seven seasons with Atlanta and Kansas City, and has only 12 career home runs. None of the division's other four starters compare, however, to a healthy Mauer, a four-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. Keyword: healthy. Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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