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Updated: August 27th, 2012 7:31pm
Joe Mauer reaches catching milestone; Jose Berrios nearly untouchable

Joe Mauer reaches catching milestone; Jose Berrios nearly untouchable

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- At this time last season, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer was in the middle of a week-long stretch where he sat out due to a strained neck. He came back on Aug. 30 and played only 12 games before mild pneumonia knocked him out for the rest of the year.

The pneumonia ended an injury-plagued season that saw Mauer post the worst numbers of his career -- a .287/.360/.368 batting line with only 18 extra-base hits and 30 RBIs in 333 plate appearances.

What a difference one year makes.

Mauer entered Monday night's game against the Seattle Mariners hitting .312 with a league-leading .407 on-base percentage and 35 extra-base hits. Perhaps most importantly, he caught his 61st game of the season and 832nd game of his career on Monday, breaking Earl Battey's franchise record that stood for 45 seasons.

Along with those 61 games at catcher, Mauer has also played 25 games at first base and 32 as designated hitter. If he misses five games the rest of the year, Mauer will have played in 147 for the season. His current career-high is 146.

"I think we've handled that part of it really well -- catching, first base, DH, and being able to keep him healthy and out on the baseball field," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And whether that lasts forever, we'll see. Our big goal was to get him through this year, and that's what he's done."

It's worth pointing out only six out of 50 prospective base stealers (12%), which is by far the lowest rate of his career. In 2007 he threw out 53% of base stealers.

Berrios lights out

Aside from Liam Hendriks, who has mostly struggled in his transition from Triple-A to the major leagues, and Kyle Gibson, who is attempting to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, the Twins don't have many top-shelf pitching prospects in the organization.

First-round draft pick Jose Berrios would fall into the "top-shelf" category, and he is currently proving why in the low minor leagues.

Berrios, 18, owns a 1.17 ERA with 49 strikeouts, four walks and only 15 hits allowed in 30 2/3 innings between the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League at the rookie-ball level.

According to a Baseball America scouting report prior to the June draft, Berrios throws a fastball that sits "in the 93-95 mph range and some scouts have seen him touch 98. He throws his fastball down in the zone, mixes in a sharp, 80-81 mph slider and shows the makings of a solid changeup with fading action."

The Twins don't usually rush 18-year-old prospects through the system, so it's unlikely Berrios will skip any levels right off the bat on his way up.

The plan is for him to attend instructional league after the rookie-league season ends in two weeks.

According to Twins officials, it's too early to project where Berrios may start off next year. The safe bet is low-A Beloit.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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