With the Chicago Cubs underway in their weekend series against the Minnesota Twins – two of baseball’s worst – let’s play a game of What If…
In 2001 – as it appears we could have a similar situation next year – the Twins had the first overall pick as the Cubs would follow. Most Cubs fans know what happened. The Twins selected hometown talent, Joe Mauer, leaving Mark Prior – the top-pitching prospect – on the table for the Cubs to grab. It’s also fitting to add that Mark Teixeira was also available but the Cubs passed on him as he went fifth overall to the Texas Rangers.
At the time, Prior seemed like a great pick. He went 18-6 in 2003 and was third in voting for the National League Cy Young Award. With fellow teammate Kerry Wood leading the rotation, the Cubs celebrated a division title—the first since 1989.
Despite blowing a 3-games- to- 1 lead in the NLCS to the then Florida Marlins, things to come seemed to be good on the north side. Then began what always begins for highly profiled athletes in a Cubs uniform: injuries. Oh, and the Cubs also signed him to one of the highest contracts for a draft pick at $10.5 million.
Injury after injury kept piling on for Prior – probably due to his high pitch counts in 2003 courtesy of former manager Dusty Baker – and it seemed like he’d be a one-hit wonder. He has yet to pitch a full MLB season.
But what if the Cubs had gotten lucky and had the opportunity to take Mauer 2nd overall with the Twins taking Prior first overall? If it were known he’d have the same success in a Cubs uniform he’s currently having in a Twins, it’d be a dream come true for Cubs fans.
Mauer is clearly a franchise catcher—something the Cubs desperately need. Since entering the league in 2004, the Cubs have had 12 different catchers behind the plate.
Mauer’s career numbers to date are a .322 batting average, 87 home runs, 527 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .403. In addition, he’s a four-time All-Star selection, three-time AL Batting Champion, three-time Gold Glove winner, four-time Silver Slugger winner and the 2009 AL MVP. Clearly the Twins got the better luck of the draw.
Now, it’s not to say had the Cubs been lucky enough to draft Mauer, he’d be putting up similar numbers. He could easily be a bust and fans would be agonizing that management yet again paid a guy to much for doing too little. For all we know, had Prior gone to the Twins, he could be still pitching and could one of the best in the league. But we won’t know and never will know. It’s just fun to imagine would could be.
How many more home runs could there be on Sheffield had Mauer been a Cub instead of a Twin? Would the Cubs have had more success with Mauer in the lineup, therefore drawing more free agents? If Mauer brings more wins and division titles to Chicago, do we even have the discussion of rebuilding or Theo the Great?
Might Jim Hendry still be GM making this his one good move or does drafting Mauer lead to more great picks and trades by Hendry? I don’t have the answers and no one does. We can’t go back in time and change the draft. That’s why What Ifs are fun. The only thing Cubs fans can hope for is that the kid Albert Almora can be the start of something great as Mauer is in Minnesota.
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