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  • Prospect Retrospective: Justin Morneau

    Cody Christie

    Fans remember Justin Morneau as one of the best players in team history, and this weekend the organization will induct him into the Twins Hall of Fame. So, how did he put himself on the prospect map?

    Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports

    The Twins drafted Justin Morneau in the third round of the 1999 MLB Draft out of New Westminster High School in British Columbia, Canada. At the time, Minnesota drafted him as a catcher, but scouts were unsure of his long-term defensive position. However, his bat was good enough to make him the first Canadian drafted in that draft class.

    Morneau's first professional action came in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .302/.333/.396 with five doubles in 17 games. As a 19-year-old, he returned to the GCL, and he destroyed the ball to the tune of a 1.143 OPS with 31 extra-base hits in 52 games. He continued to work on his catching skills, but his bat was what put him on the map as one of baseball's best prospects.  

    Baseball America got excited about Morneau following his 2001 minor league season. Over the next three winters, they included Morneau as one of their top-25 prospects. He entered the 2002 season at #21, the 2003 season at #14, and the 2004 season at #16. Morneau also appeared in two Futures Games during that stretch. Scouts considered him one of baseball's best prospects, and there was excitement for what he could mean to Minnesota's long-term future. 

    During the 2001 campaign, Morneau played at three different levels, including making it to Double-A, where he was over four years younger than the average age of the competition. Minnesota decided to move him to first base, and this was even before the team drafted Joe Mauer as the team's catcher of the future. Morneau's change in defensive position didn't hurt his offensive output. He destroyed the ball in the Midwest League (Low-A) with a 1.018 OPS. He got on base over 38% of the time at High-A and had 17 extra-base hits in 53 games. 

    As a 21-year-old, Morneau spent all of the 2002 season at Double-A. Even though he was over three years younger than the competition, he posted an .830 OPS with 51 extra-base hits in 126 games. It was getting tough for the Twins to keep Morneau in the minors, and it would get even more challenging in 2003. 

    At the beginning of 2003, Minnesota had fan-favorite Doug Mientkiewicz handling first base, and the team was coming off a 2002 run to the ALCS. This left Morneau back at Double-A with a bat that was close to big-league ready. He posted a 1.004 OPS in the Eastern League, where he was still younger than the competition. The Twins promoted him to Triple-A, and he logged 28 extra-base hits in 71 games. Morneau made his big-league debut that season and hit .226/.287/.377 in 40 games, but Mientkiewicz was still at first. 

    Morneau's minor league time wasn't finished as he went back to Rochester in 2004 and mashed the ball. In 72 games, he posted a .992 OPS with 22 homers and 23 doubles. At the trade deadline, the Twins traded Mientkiewicz to Boston, and there was now an open spot at first base. Morneau proved he belonged in the big leagues by hitting 19 home runs and 17 doubles in 74 games with the Twins. He had cemented himself as the Twins first baseman for the next decade.

    What do you remember about Morneau's minor league career? Where were you when Mientkiewicz was traded? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    Somone needs to tell the story of 2006, that was the year he turned a huge corner.

    It was at the beginning of May, and I think the Twins were on the West Coast.  Morneau was having a pretty bad year at the plate up to that point, and frankly, so were the Twins.

    Supposedly, Gardenhire called him into his office, was it in Seattle?  Told him he could be a someone if he would just focus on hitting the ball hard, not worrrying about whether he was any good.

    Maybe it was me, maybe I am romanticizing this somehow, but starting the next game and lasting for the rest of the season, Morneau exploded as a hitter and the Twins had one of their best seasons ever. 

    In fact, the funniest part of that whole season:  The Twins were never in first place the whole year.  And their season was over, their last game ended with a win.  But, after their season was over, I think it was Detroit lost their last game in extra innings and that made Twins the Division winners.

    So, Morneau and the Twins played the whole schedule out and were never in first but ended up there after Detroit lost later in the day. 

    He was fun to watch.  If you look at that Center Field camera when the pitch is coming in to Morneau, his eyes open really wide when he sees a fat one coming at him.  You can literally see his eyes light up.

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    2 hours ago, Old Twins Cap said:

    Somone needs to tell the story of 2006, that was the year he turned a huge corner.

    It was at the beginning of May, and I think the Twins were on the West Coast.  Morneau was having a pretty bad year at the plate up to that point, and frankly, so were the Twins.

    It was in Seattle, where he had never performed well. Seattle is a couple of hours' drive (plus an hour waiting for US Customs) from his home in BC and he always had lots of family in the crowd there. We all have our issues with Gardie, but he was a decent "man manager," at least on this occasion. He got Justin to relax and not try to hit every pitch 500 feet.

    So many prospects look great and then flame out, lose confidence, and drop out of sight. That day set Justin on a course for the Twins' HOF.

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    In 2006, Morneau started the season decently and he owned an OPS north of .800 for 1/2 of April but then slumped for about 15 games into early May before crushing the ball starting in June. By all accounts I've ever seen, Morneau is an even better person than he is a baseball player.

    Concussions suck. I feel like they may have cost Morneau entry into the Baseball HoF.

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    I didn't follow the minors that much back then.  I thought I read a Tribune article that said his Dad was upset the Twins weren't calling him up and he had a point given Meinkewitz's bad bat.  In the end he made it and made it big. Happy to root for him as a Twin.

    Joe Mauer will likely make the hall of fame but Justin Morneau was the heart and soul of that team hitting in the 4 spot.  When they needed a HR or bug hit it seemed like more often than Morneau delivered.  He was my favorite Twin after Hunter left.  He played the game hard giving his all to win and it cost him with those concussions.  Still I remember him as a dangerous hitter that pitchers were very careful with.  I wish we had more guys like him.

    I like his announcing style not that he has perfect voice for it but his knowledge and understanding of the underlying "moments" during games really stand out to me and I enjoy his commentary. I hope they keep him in the booth.


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    I didn't follow the minors back then, but I knew of Morneau.  I think everyone who followed the Twins knew of him, The Twins had lacked a legitimate power hitter for decades and Morneau was looking like he could be that guy, and was.

    One Major League moment I remember most was in 2006, the Twins were like 10 games back and and a few games under .500.  Morneau hit a game winning Home Run in extra innings against I think Baltimore.  From that point on the Twins and Morneau took off.  The Twins went 72-36 from that point on and Morneau who was hitting .240 with 11 HR ended the season hitting .321 with 34 HR - and won the AL MVP.

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