The World Baseball Classic has now entered its second round and Team USA currently is one game away from reaching the tournament’s final four. In a month full of madness, March has seen plenty of baseball played on the world’s largest stage. The WBC has traditionally been a time where relatively unknown players have made a name for themselves and this year’s tournament is no different. All over the globe, you are seeing some of the youngest and most talented players the game of baseball has to offer and it makes for a great atmosphere.
While much of the focus may trend toward players who are coming on to the world stage for the first time, one established Major League veteran is quietly having an impressive tournament. That player is the Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer. While he has a rock star type of following in the state of Minnesota, fans outside of the state may not view him with the same type of respect.
Whether it’s connected to the Twins’ success or a perceived decline in his statistical performance, Mauer’s reputation as baseball’s top catcher has been put into question. After signing his $184 million dollar contract in 2010, he has failed to live up to the expectations that the media has bestowed upon him. Those expectations may be unrealistic and shortsighted, but they are the type of expectations that accompany a player who earns as much as he does.
Mauer hasn’t changed the way he plays the game and his strengths have remained the same since he came into the league. He is solid defensively, has as pure of a swing as you’ll ever see and is an above average hitter. Why anyone would ever expect him to be anything more than that continues to puzzle me.
What the Twins signed Mauer to be is the type of player he was in 2009. While he may not have the same statistical output that he had in 2009, he has remained the same consistent player that he was in 2009. His strengths haven’t changed, his skills haven’t deteriorated and his love for the Twins remains true. The only thing that has changed since he signed his contract is the success of the Twins. Yet, people around the game of baseball still look at him and believe that there are catchers in the game today who can be considered better than him.
Those beliefs are false and if anyone should believe that Mauer isn’t the best catcher in the world, take a look at the tournament he is having at the WBC. So far, he is hitting .429 with zero HR, two RBI, six hits and three runs in 14 at-bats over four games for Team USA. At a time when Mauer is facing some of the best pitchers the world has to offer, he seems to be excelling. Mauer continues to provide above average hitting and solid defense to a team loaded with talent and a team that does not lean on him for every game. Mauer may not publically act like a prototypical star player in the game of baseball, but his performance on the field would indicate that he is star worthy.
While he may not wow you with his statistics or surprise you with his actions, Mauer remains the best catcher in baseball simply for fact that he possesses the best all-around talent of any catcher in the league. Some catchers may be more powerful than him and some may be better defensively, but if you look at each player’s complete body of work, you will see that none of them can compare to the entire skill set that Mauer brings to the Twins.
The WBC may be a coming out party for some players hoping to make a name for themselves on the world stage. In the case of Mauer, it’s just another day at the ballpark.