Joe Mauer reports for his first spring training without catcher's gear
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's been an unusual spring training thus far for Joe Mauer. And for him it technically hasn't even started.
For the first time in his career with the Twins, Mauer was not required to report with pitchers and catchers. Instead, he'll officially join the team Saturday when position players join for the first full team workouts.
But Mauer and other position players already have arrived to get in some work on a pick-and-choose basis. Mauer fielded throws on Field 3 from other infielders like Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, Miguel Sano and Jason Bartlett. Then a big group that included Mauer, Sano and Byron Buxton, did routine base running drills on the infield.
It was the familiar productive monotony for Mauer. Save for the franchise-altering decision to switch positions full-time to first base.
"It was different," Mauer said Tuesday about showing up to spring without his catchers' gear. "I think it'll hit me more Saturday. ... It's new to me. The first workouts I think will be a little different. I'm still working out but it's definitely a little weird not being in catchers meetings and things like that."
Mauer has traded in the gear for a first baseman's mitt.
"It was really weird seeing him in the clubhouse, not going out with the pitchers and catchers and not strapped up and going out," Ron Gardenhire said Monday. "Going out in the short pants and going down to the other field, that was crazy. I haven't seen that in a while. Yeah, that was a little bit nuts. But I think he'll be better for it and I think it'll really help him out. I think it's going to give him a chance to play a lot more baseball."
Even though he didn't technically report as a part of the pitchers and catchers, his influence likely will still be felt among that group.
"When you're standing at first base and you get a lot of baseball throws to you and you have an opportunity to walk to the mound, I think you'll have plenty to say," Gardenhire said. "He knows hitters and he'll be able to run out from first base and talk to them quite a bit. He'll be a big part of it out there with the catcher because he has so much knowledge of all these hitters in the game. We've got a bonus here. Not only is he not catching anymore and he's going to be on the field more but he's at first base where he can make a lot of trips to the mound without having the catcher run out there."
Mauer said he's changed his workout routine, and that may carryover into the season.
"It's one thing, and I've kind of talked with Justin [Morneau] about it, when you are catching and you're squatting and getting a pretty good leg workout in. I've been lifting a little bit more and staying a lot more flexible. It's new for me and I'm kinda doing a little bit more work in the gym than I normally have.''
Many around the team believe that Mauer's athleticism will translate well to first base, especially when he's given more time to focus on the finer points of fielding the position.
"Joe's gifted," Gardenhire said. "He's got hands, he's got coordination. He's got sweet hands over there."
Former Twins manager Tom Kelly is scheduled to join the club Friday and help coach when full-squad workouts begin Saturday. Mauer might become one of Kelly's special projects this spring.
How much can the special assistant help Mauer improve at first?
"You know TK. As much as Joe wants to work. It's not how much TK wants to, it's how much Joe wants to do it. TK will be there every day," Gardenhire said. "[Kelly is] as good as they get around the bag and teaching the footwork and everything. That's his passion. That's what TK has always done."
Can he be a gold glove-caliber first baseman? Will he hit more home runs now without the burden of catching? Will a full season of his offensive numbers offset the lost defensive value from switching positions?
Time will tell.
"I think 20 more games playing that position I think my numbers will be better. But I think it's a lot of unknowns, what is going to happen. You guys are asking me questions and I don't know," Mauer said. "I'm not going to try to be anything I'm not; I'm going to go out there and just trying to have good at-bat and play the game like I always have. It will just be at a different position."