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Article: A Look Back To 2001: What If The Twins Drafted Mark Prior?

joe mauer delmon young mark prior ron gardenhire
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#1 Seth Stohs

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 07:58 PM

Yesterday, we took a look back at the 2001 draft. Specifically, we reviewed the decision that the Twins had with the first overall draft pick. Should they take Joe Mauer, or should they take Mark Prior? Well, 17 years later, it sure looks like the Twins made the right choice, though Prior was tremendous before injuries ended his career prematurely.

Today, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the situation and just ask what might have been if the Twins would have drafted, and been able to sign, Mark Prior.Back in 2009, Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times opined, “What looked like an incredible break - the Twins passing on Prior and taking the more ‘signable’ Mauer with the #1-overall pick - has turned into yet another example of how fate seems to taunt the Cubs and Cubs fans.”
In hindsight, it is easy to say that the Twins made the right choice, but it is also fun to consider what would have happened if things had gone differently. What if the Twins would have drafted (and signed) Prior instead of Mauer? Let’s consider.

… for the Twins

Let’s start with an assumption that the Twins were actually able to convince Prior to sign. That’s a big assumption as Prior made it clear that he did not want to sign with the Twins at that time. But let’s think more positively.

The Twins have a strong history of drafting high school hitters and college pitchers. That was even more the case at that time for years to follow. Looking at some of the pitchers that the Twins employed in the early-to-mid ‘90s, you see a lot of college guys. Starting pitchers included names like Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, and Jeff Manship, who were all drafted out of college. The Twins moved each of them fairly aggressively in the minor leagues, and yet, in comparison to Prior, they were very patient. Of course, none of them were the #2 overall pick, or even first round picks.

The Twins likely would have had Mark Prior begin his professional career at Ft. Myers (High-A). He would have maybe spent a half-season there, and after the Florida State League All-Star Game, he may have been promoted to New Britain (Double A affiliate at that time). Honestly, because the Twins were in the playoffs, he probably would have been called up directly from Double A. If not, he would have gone to spring training 2003 with an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster. And he probably would have.

The Twins have been known for taking care of their pitchers, especially young pitchers, at least once Ron Gardenhire took over as manager. Dusty Baker was willing to let Kerry Wood and Mark Prior throw 120 to 140 (or more) pitches late into the season. I have no doubt that the Twins would have controlled pitch and inning counts much more tightly.

Does that mean that Prior would have stayed healthy? There’s no way to know that with any certainty. It is possible that Prior had underlying arm issues that may have caused inevitable injury. However, it is also possible that he could have been an All-Star, Cy Young-contending starter for the Twins from 2003 through 2008, and maybe beyond.

And think about the Twins 2006 team. That roster included the AL MVP (Justin Morneau), a top closer (Joe Nathan) and the AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. They also had Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter, Jason Bartlett, Brad Radke and a strong bullpen. How much could a healthy Mark Prior have helped that team? The thought of Prior and Santana in the same rotation, along with Brad Radke, and ideally a healthy Francisco Liriano is sure fun to think about. (Of course, the AL Batting title winner (Mauer) would not have been on the team.)


… for the Cubs

Had the Twins taken Prior, the likelihood is that the Cubs would have drafted Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira who was said to be looking for a $15 million deal after the draft. (With the Rangers, as the fifth pick, he signed a four-year, $9.5 million big league contract with a $4.5 million bonus.) Teixeira would have moved quickly through the Cubs farm system and probably put up numbers similar to those he has put up with the Rangers, Braves, Angels, and Yankees in his career. But would the Cubs have kept Aramis Ramirez or acquired Derrek Lee? Would they have gone after Alfonso Soriano? I would venture to guess that Teixeira would have been a building block for the Cubs and would likely not have played for as many teams in his career.


… for Joe Mauer

To me, it makes a lot of sense that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would have selected Joe Mauer with the third pick in the 2001 draft. The Rays were a team that was constantly building at that time. They had a lot of early draft picks that they used to select several talented high school players. They took Carl Crawford in 1999, Rocco Baldelli in 2000, BJ Upton in 2002, and Delmon Young with the first-overall pick in the 2003 draft. Mauer likely would have thrived with the Rays had this scenario played out.

While he batted third through most of his career with the Twins, you have to assume that Joe Maddon may not have been afraid to bat him leadoff. As earlier adopters of analytics, the Rays would have loved Mauer’s on-base percentage at the top of the lineup. Assuming health, it’s hard to believe that Mauer would not have been equally successful with the Rays.

Now, the economic reality is that the Rays would not have been able to keep him through free agency. The Twins actually extended him for two years beyond free agency before giving him the big contract. The Twins had to do the deal for a variety of reasons, including the new stadium, his performance on and off the field, and being a hometown player. If the Rays would have pushed him to the big leagues as quickly as the Twins did (likely), he probably would have been traded either before or after his 2009 season. At that time, Jorge Posada and Jason Varitek were on their last legs with the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively, so there would have been a big market and the Rays could have received a lot for Mauer. Mauer would likely have gone to a team that was in the playoffs often and would have had some great playoff and maybe World Series moments. Assuming health, he would have received, probably, an even bigger contract than the Twins gave him.

CONCLUSIONS

The Twins had a huge decision to make in 2001. Should they draft the All-American, can’t-miss college pitcher from a baseball-rich college? Or, should they take the tremendous high school athlete with the full ride scholarship to Florida State for football and baseball - a guy from their backyard with the perfect swing, a strong arm, and the perfect mentality?

The Twins went chose Mauer, and have never looked back or questioned it. Fortunately for the state of Minnesota, Mauer has proven the Twins right over time, regardless of what Prior has done in his career, by being one of the best players in baseball. Even if Prior somehow goes on to win three or four Cy Young Awards, the Twins’ selection is justified. It was not a case of the team being “cheap”: Mauer’s signing bonus still ranks among the highest of all time (in part because of baseball going to the slotting system in the draft). It was not a case of picking the hometown kid over a better player (as the Padres did in 2004 when they picked Matt Bush instead of Justin Verlander).



Scouting and the baseball draft can be such an inexact science. The Twins have a solid track record in drafting and player development, but no team is perfect all of the time. In 2001, the Twins had a difficult decision, and they made the right choice.

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#2 Thrylos

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 08:24 PM

This is an interesting "what if" question, but the write up does nor really answer it, but goes into tangents, instead of examining that hypothetical situation.

 

If Prior instead of Mauer, likely no Santana and definitely no Liriano or Nathan, because they needed a catcher.

 

So what happened in the 2010s, would had happened a decade earlier and would had resulted in changes in the Twins' FO and management, that would had resulted to a dynasty starting at about 2009 or so that would had given them a new ballpark with a roof without a second thought, and probably a few rings.

 

Bad move drafting Mauer, because it perpetuated the mentality of "good enough"

 

 

 

 

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#3 Seth Stohs

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 08:39 PM

 

This is an interesting "what if" question, but the write up does nor really answer it, but goes into tangents, instead of examining that hypothetical situation.

 

I mean... that's pretty intentional because there is NO answer to the question... there is no way to know what would have happened. The Cubs had Wood, Prior and Zambrano and couldn't win a World Series. So there's no way to know who will win a World Series. So yes, it's all tangents and thoughts and theories. 

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#4 AZTwin

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 08:56 PM

What if Mauer didn't injure his knee or get the concussion.  Man...


#5 Darius

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 10:15 PM

A classic tale of blind luck.

Always adhering to that philosophy (passing on elite prospects for a cheaper option) will backfire in you more than it'll help you,

Going back and looking at all of the number 1 picks in the last 20-30 years, for every Mark Prior prior with massive expectations that bounces out of the league immediately, there's a Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Bryce Harper, etc.

#6 KGB

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 06:26 AM

Based on the situation at the time of the draft, I think the Twins made the correct decision of drafting Mauer.But I know in 2002-2003 with the Twins winning the division and having potential to get to the World Series, I would have traded Mauer for Prior in a second.

 

Knowing what we know now, if I am given the choice of 15 years of watching a borderline HOF player and having zero playoff wins or have a 2-3 year window with a realistic World Series chance, I'd take the second option.


#7 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 06:36 AM

Big thing I see from it is that Gardenhire vs. Baker might have helped Prior's career last a big longer. I'm not sure taking Mauer over Prior is the definition of perpetuating mediocrity. Mauer didn't exactly take a hometown discount when he signed. Santana was left unprotected between 1999 and 2000, I think he'd still be a Twin, though Thrylos is right about Liriano. I don't see AJ getting traded with no Mauer waiting in the wings. That means no Joe Nathan (though he might have eventually signed as a FA given SF's inability to see his ability to close, who knows) or Boof Bonser. 


#8 yarnivek1972

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 06:39 AM

This is an interesting "what if" question, but the write up does nor really answer it, but goes into tangents, instead of examining that hypothetical situation.

If Prior instead of Mauer, likely no Santana and definitely no Liriano or Nathan, because they needed a catcher.

So what happened in the 2010s, would had happened a decade earlier and would had resulted in changes in the Twins' FO and management, that would had resulted to a dynasty starting at about 2009 or so that would had given them a new ballpark with a roof without a second thought, and probably a few rings.

Bad move drafting Mauer, because it perpetuated the mentality of "good enough"


How would drafting Prior over Mauer affected the acquisition of Santana, a rule 5 pick?

#9 prouster

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 07:20 AM

This is an interesting "what if" question, but the write up does nor really answer it, but goes into tangents, instead of examining that hypothetical situation.

If Prior instead of Mauer, likely no Santana and definitely no Liriano or Nathan, because they needed a catcher.

So what happened in the 2010s, would had happened a decade earlier and would had resulted in changes in the Twins' FO and management, that would had resulted to a dynasty starting at about 2009 or so that would had given them a new ballpark with a roof without a second thought, and probably a few rings.

Bad move drafting Mauer, because it perpetuated the mentality of "good enough"


So you DO live in an alternate reality?

#10 ThejacKmp

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 08:00 AM

 

So what happened in the 2010s, would had happened a decade earlier and would had resulted in changes in the Twins' FO and management, that would had resulted to a dynasty starting at about 2009 or so that would had given them a new ballpark with a roof without a second thought, and probably a few rings.

 

Bad move drafting Mauer, because it perpetuated the mentality of "good enough"

 

Speaking of tangents that are not well developed . . . 

 

1.) Mauer is the reason for the mentality of "good enough"? What evidence do you have? I hardly think Joe Mauer is responsible for how Terry Ryan and the Pohlad's think. Mauer had little effect on the Twins payroll in the 2000s and its hard to see how they would have added more players without him. In fact, Prior would cost more so you'd see less free agent purchases.

 

2.) How would what happened in 2010s have happened in the 2000s? The Twins would have been competitive with Santana and Prior. AJ wasn't Mauer but he wasn't bad. Nathan would be a loss but a closer is overrated. This seems like an assertion based on little - similarly, what makes you think Terry Ryan would have been out a decade earlier?

 

3.) Why do you think they get a ballpark with a roof? What does drafting Joe Mauer have to do with the ballpark not having a roof? Does Joe Mauer insist on living under open skies? I think it's more likely that the Twins never get Target Field without Mauer. Losing Santana and Hunter made many Minnesotans a bit more amenable to the cost of a new stadium since no one wanted to see Mauer a Yankee.

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#11 ThejacKmp

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 08:04 AM

 

Based on the situation at the time of the draft, I think the Twins made the correct decision of drafting Mauer.But I know in 2002-2003 with the Twins winning the division and having potential to get to the World Series, I would have traded Mauer for Prior in a second.

 

That's an interesting thought. No way the Cubs do it but Mauer by 2002/2003 was an elite prospect so it might have been a relatively fair trade. The Cubs were too competitive to make that trade but Chicago would have loved them some Mauer.

 

I'd pick 15 years of HOF over 2-3 years of a slightly bigger WS chance (Prior helps but those Twins teams had some big gaps in the lineup), But I get the other way around.


#12 ThejacKmp

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 08:11 AM

I'd be interested to see where the idea that the Cubs would not have drafted Mauer comes from. Makes sense to go Tex but I've just never heard it.

 

If the Cubs did take Mauer, his career would be interesting. He would have quickly become a fan favorite and one of the more recognizable players in baseball - Cubs have the national spotlight almost as much as NY and equal to Boston. He's also not leaving the Cubs as they would have the money to match anyone else. Being a lifetime Cub is a pretty crazy thing. He'd have been in the playoffs throughout the 2000s as the Cubs made it in 2006 and 2007 and were a competitive team much of that time.

 

I'd think that even if everything happens the same with concussions etc., Mauer would be a Hall of Famer with the Cubs. That national attention would make people appreciate his peak that much more.


#13 Seth Stohs

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 08:14 AM

 

A classic tale of blind luck.

Always adhering to that philosophy (passing on elite prospects for a cheaper option) will backfire in you more than it'll help you,

Going back and looking at all of the number 1 picks in the last 20-30 years, for every Mark Prior prior with massive expectations that bounces out of the league immediately, there's a Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Bryce Harper, etc.

 

I think most would have argued, even then, that Mauer was an elite prospect too. 

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#14 spycake

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 09:54 AM

Hard to do alternate reality. On paper, Prior would have likely helped in 2003, but our offense was shut down pretty well in the ALDS that year. 3 runs in game 1 behind Santana, then only 1 run each in games 2, 3, and 4... not sure if Prior could have helped.

 

2004 might be a better year. Prior was hurt early in the season, but returned for the second half and finished strong. Would have meant AJ at catcher, and no Joe Nathan at closer, but I think we would have survived those changes, just like we survived Mauer's injury. The offense did reasonably well in the ALDS that year but we scuffled behind mediocre to poor starts from Radke and Silva. Seems likely that adding Prior to that team could have at least set up a Game 5 full rest start from Johan. But vs the Yankees, we probably would have found a way to screw it up regardless. (Had we advanced, it would have really changed history -- no Red Sox comeback vs NY...)

 

It's a bit more of a stretch to look back at 2002 -- would we have promoted Prior in time? Would he have contributed that quickly for us? But if he could have replaced Rick Reed, either overall or in the playoff rotation, that might have helped. Reed struggled in both of his starts that postseason, putting us in a 2-1 hole vs Oakland, and preventing us from going to LA up 2-0 on the Angels which would have prevented the series from ending in LA.

 

Prior was still decent in 2005 but fading by season's end, and the Twins finished well behind Chicago and Cleveland. By 2006, of course, Prior was cooked, and Mauer was greatly out-performing AJ too.

 

Target Field was finally approved in May 2006. I don't think that would have been affected much.

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#15 ashburyjohn

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 10:21 AM

Mauer's one of my favorites but following him through his career and rooting for his team leaves me with this principle: drafting a stud catcher high in the first round is only for rich teams who believe all other needs can be filled. For most teams, if the prospect develops the way you hope, he presents too many challenges in roster construction, unless you're so well off that you are willing to let him sit on the bench and possibly pinch-hit on his numerous days off from catching. If he's really the right guy because of the bat, convert him to 3B or RF to utilize the arm.

 

I'd have taken Prior. Or, with the more recent trend toward position players at #1, maybe Teixeira.

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#16 spycake

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 10:24 AM

 

Mauer's one of my favorites but following him through his career and rooting for his team leaves me with this principle: drafting a stud catcher high in the first round is only for rich teams who believe all other needs can be filled. For most teams, if the prospect develops the way you hope, he presents too many challenges in roster construction, unless you're so well off that you are willing to let him sit on the bench and possibly pinch-hit on his numerous days off from catching. If he's really the right guy because of the bat, convert him to 3B or RF to utilize the arm.

You think Mauer's Twins from 2004-2010 (or whatever) were held back because of challenges in roster construction?


#17 ashburyjohn

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 10:31 AM

You think Mauer's Twins from 2004-2010 (or whatever) were held back because of challenges in roster construction?

I would have liked a more capable full-time DH some of those years, yes. Maybe I'm incorrect in recalling that the perceived need to reserve 20-30 games at DH for Mauer held them back from going after one, resulting in seasons where Rondell White and Jason Tyner DH'ed in the greatest number of games, but I don't think so.

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#18 Tomj14

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 11:05 AM

My real question is, if the Twins would have gotten to a world series with Prior, would that been enough to say Prior was the right pick?

For me the answer to that is yes, but Mauer still has that chance, but that is what it would to change my mind.

I would say the same about Teixeira if they would have gotten to the world series with him, it would have been a better pick.

 


#19 spycake

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 11:07 AM

 

I would have liked a more capable full-time DH some of those years, yes. Maybe I'm incorrect in thinking that the perceived need to reserve 20-30 games at DH for Mauer held them back from going after one, resulting in seasons where Rondell White and Jason Tyner DH'ed in the greatest number of games, but I don't think so.

I don't think that's right. Mauer didn't even play 20 games at DH until 2009. We could have signed Thome after 2002, or dealt for him after 2005, but I think we were just too frugal/conservative to invest in external solutions at the position until at least 2008 or so, when TR stepped down and Target Field was on the horizon. And by then we had Kubel.


#20 ashburyjohn

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 11:17 AM

I'll go with that word "perceived". Several of those early years, Mauer didn't reach the intended number of games at DH (or C) due to short stretches of injury.

 

Some of the perceived need (there's that word again) to carry a third catcher also stemmed from wanting to DH Mauer frequently.

 

As for the frugality factor, DHs can be one of the cheapest ways to improve an offense. You have room for one, though, to attract a good one as a free agent.

 

The roster challenges were each small, but cumulative.

 

 

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