Mauer adjusting well to life as Twins first baseman
MAY 05, 2014 11:30a ET
One month into the 2014 season, Minnesota's Joe Mauer is still learning the ins and outs of his new position. For the most part, he's had to learn on the job.
By this point, though, the former catcher has finally adjusted to being called a first baseman.
"That seems fine now," Mauer said. "It's starting to stick, I guess."
A concussion stemming from a foul tip last August forced Mauer to get out from behind the plate and move 90 feet to first base in order to keep the Twins' six-time All-Star healthy. Minnesota has now played 29 games this season, and Mauer has started all 29 -- only four of which came as a designated hitter.
The Twins were confident in Mauer's ability to pick up his new position quickly, simply because they felt the former three-sport star was athletic enough to play almost anywhere on the field. Before the 2014 season, he did spend a total of 52 games at first base as the occasional backup to his good friend, Justin Morneau.
Mauer has zero errors in 247 chances at first base this year, although his defensive runs saved is -3, which according to Fangraphs.com ranks 23rd among major league first baseman. There have been a handful of times where Mauer has looked a bit like a guy who was a catcher his entire life. During Minnesota's recent homestand, he couldn't handle a grounder hit to first base after it took a funny hop in the dirt. There have also been a few line drives that have snuck past him down the first base line.
For the most part, though, the Twins have been pleased with how quickly he's taken to his new position.
"He's fine. He's not as confident as a guy that's been out there for many years," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "It takes time. First base, the ball comes there an awful lot. You're in the mix of a lot of plays. It takes time. I think it's an adjustment for him. . . . Until you've been at first base, which I have, and have a pitcher throwing to a left-handed hitter and you're coming off the bag with a rocket being hit at you, that's something that you just have to experience. He's getting used to that. "
One adjustment that has flown under the radar for Mauer has been the chatter that accompanies being a first baseman. Typically, a first baseman will chat with an opposing player who reaches base, with the topics of conversation spreading the gamut from baseball to their families to life in general.
Mauer is the face of the Twins' franchise and one of the more reserved stars in baseball. Being talkative at first base is something else he's had to endure as he's learning his new position.
"I'm trying to stay in the game because I've got a lot to worry about over there," Mauer said. "Maybe when I've got 10 years at first like (Adrian) Gonzalez does, maybe I'll be a little bit more chatty."
The belief within the organization was that moving Mauer to first base would keep him healthy and in the lineup on a regular basis, thus helping boost his already impressive offensive numbers. Save for Sunday's game, when he exited early with back spasms, that's been the case. His .296 batting average is still a bit down from what he's hit throughout his career, though he has hit .324 with a .407 on-base percentage since April 12.
Gardenhire said one facet of catching that Mauer has since had to give up is being able to watch pitches from his own pitcher during the first inning, which he believes helped him track the ball from opposing pitchers when he eventually stepped into the batter's box.
"You start thinking about that, that's pretty good stuff," Gardenhire said. "There's a reason why he's a great hitter. He uses the catching part of it as tracking pitches, too, and seeing the ball. I thought that was pretty good stuff. That's something that you don't think about too often."
From a defensive standpoint, though, Mauer has yet to give the Twins any cause for concern at his new position. No more crouching behind the plate has led to less time in the training room of the clubhouse before and after games. It's also resulted in his bat in the lineup every day; by this time last year he'd already had a day off.
Mauer's career as a full-time first baseman is just 29 games old, and he's bound to gain much more on-the-job training as the season progresses. As the calendar has turned to May, Mauer grows a little more comfortable each day he takes his position at first base.
"You always see something different," Mauer said. "The other day, I was holding a runner on and I had to backpedal a little bit for a fly ball, so that's kind of the first one I had of those. No matter how long you've been in this game, you'll always see something different. Now learning a new position, I'm seeing a lot more."
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