June 5, 2001
The Twins, with the number one choice in baseball’s amateur draft, select Cretin-Derham Hall catcher Joe Mauer. It’s a talker in Minnesota and around baseball because the Twins passed on the consensus number one choice, USC pitcher Mark Prior, to take the local prep star. Some of the local media was not too happy:
The Twins passed on the best player in the amateur baseball draft.
They blinked, they surrendered, they choked, they conceded.
They certainly threw away the present – a player who might have helped them as immediately as later this season – to supposedly protect a future they have repeatedly warned us might not even play out in Minnesota.
-Dan Barreiro Star Tribune 6/6/2001
The feeling was that the Twins may have made the “safe” pick. The cries of a small-market team unable to sign its top draft choice were not unfamiliar in Minnesota (see Lee, Travis).
For their part, the Twins put a spin on the move, saying that the hometown catcher was the guy they wanted. Economically speaking it was not an unsound move. Beyond the $5-15 million (depending on who you ask) they saved by drafting Mauer instead of Prior, Minnesotans have consistently demonstrated the drawing power of a local boy.
Six years later the 2001 draft is still debated. Mark Prior took the fast track to the majors in the Cubs’ organization, and was on the major league roster by May of 2002. In 2003, at the age of 22, Prior had his best season to date, with an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
While Prior was pitching the Cubs to the playoffs, Joe Mauer had yet to make the majors. He finally made the major league roster a year later, at the start of the 2004 season. Though he had some impressive numbers, Mauer only played 35 games that year due to a number of injuries. Prior also had a shortened 2004 due to injury, but the trade off still seemed to favor the Cubs.
In 2005 Prior had another solid season, but seemed to be struggling to find the form that made him a dominant pitcher in 2003. Meanwhile, Mauer played his first full season behind the plate for the Twins, and put up a .294/.372/.411 line.
While Mauer had his breakout season in 2006, Prior spent the bulk of the year on the injured list. When Prior did pitch, he was ineffective for the Cubs. There is a lot of speculation that Prior’s injury problems stem from abuse his arm has taken as a result of how he has been used, and he has yet to throw a pitch in 2007. Mauer continued his hot hitting to open 2007, but missed the bulk of the last month with injury.
Mark Prior WARP3
Joe Mauer WARP3
Total 20.5 (through 2006)
Numbers-wise, it looks like a wash, and ultimately injuries will likely decide which of these two players succeeds (Mauer seems to have the advantage right now on that front-though he has had nagging injuries, it is possible that Prior may not fully recover from his problems).