There are few meaningful methods of measuring defense available
to the common fan. Fielding percentages are notoriously
misleading, and do you really want to be the kind of person who
knows what "range factor" is, let alone how to apply it? Perhaps
the best way to assess defense is to simply sit around and watch
a lot of TV. Twins righthander Joe Mays did just that last year,
and he can now make a pretty compelling argument that Minnesota
has the American League's best defense. Says Mays, "Just look
how many times we were on Web Gems. I mean, every night."
The Twins finished fifth in the league in fielding percentage
last season, but that understates the contribution the glovemen
made, especially to the collective state of mind of the pitching
staff. "As pitchers we can go out there and relax because we
know that the defense is going to be behind us," says Mays,
whose emergence gives the Twins a trio of front-of-the-rotation
starters--Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Mays--who won 47 games
last year, five fewer than the Yankees' big three. Minnesota
also has a reliable fourth starter in 36-year-old Rick Reed.
The defense behind that impressive rotation is full of
highlight-reel regulars. Centerfielder Torii Hunter and first
baseman Doug Mientkiewicz won Gold Gloves, and with Roberto
Alomar no longer playing alongside Omar Vizquel in Cleveland,
the Twins' double-play combo of Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas
is the league's best. Frequently overshadowed, however, is Corey
Koskie, who in a few short years has transformed himself from a
goofball Canadian puckstopper into a goofball Canadian who has
been the AL's most consistent third baseman over the past two
Koskie, 28, grew up in Manitoba, where he played volleyball and
hockey. Baseball was little more than a diversion, and when he
and his friends did play, there was very little practice
involved. "If the game was at six o'clock," says Koskie, "we'd
get there at 5:45, throw a little and play." He finally gave
baseball his undivided attention in 1992 when, unable to get a
Division I hockey or volleyball scholarship because he hadn't
taken the SAT, he enrolled at Des Moines Area Community College
in Boone, Iowa, which didn't even offer hockey or volleyball.
Because Koskie got serious about the game so late in life, his
coaches inundated him with fundamental drill work, which
actually hampered him. "I thought he was too robotic," says new
manager Ron Gardenhire. "I wanted him to be more of an athlete."
Gardenhire, who as a coach has worked with Koskie since 1997,
finally told him to forget about trying to be mechanically
perfect and instead to draw on his two years of playing goalie
for the Selkirk Steelers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
"Gardy said, 'You're a goalie. Catch the ball like a glove save.
Don't fight it,'" Koskie says.
Koskie also helps keep things loose in the clubhouse, which is
important since the Twins will play this season knowing that if
baseball contracts, they might not be together next year.
Koskie's role is to dish out the occasional insult, but more
often to serve as the butt of his teammates' wisecracks, usually
at the expense of his wardrobe or his homeland. "Well, he's from
Canada, so he has kind of this deranged sense of humor," says
infielder Denny Hocking, unable to resist taking a poke at his
pal. "Not the sharpest blade in the drawer, know what I mean?"
Koskie, who missed more than two weeks this spring with a
bruised right wrist, had a career year at the plate last season,
finishing one homer behind Hunter, who led the team with 27.
That number illustrates Minnesota's lack of pop. The team hasn't
had a 30-home-run hitter since 1987. But the Twins like to rely
on a more slump-proof aspect of the game. "Our defense is still
going to be there," says Mays. "It's going to be strong again."
As are the Twins. --Mark Bechtel
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Always a decent hitter, Koskie, a former junior hockey goalie, has become known for his glove saves.
COLOR PHOTO: CRAIG AMBROSIO/GETTY IMAGES REED
During Tom Kelly's 15-plus years as Twins skipper, 124 managers
were hired by other clubs; 13 teams hired at least five.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Twins
"Talentwise the Twins are fine. The most interesting thing will
be to see how differently they play under a new manager. They
won a lot of games on discipline, little ball and being
overaggressive, but I'm not sure that will be the case with Ron
Gardenhire. Will Torii Hunter think he needs to hit 30 homers?
Will Doug Mientkiewicz and Jacque Jones stay in a
disciplined-aggressiveness mode or start playing fancy-Joe
baseball? So far I haven't really seen the same club as last
year.... If you can get to this team in the sixth or seventh
inning, they're in trouble. The top four starters--Brad Radke,
Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Rick Reed--will have to average seven
innings per game. If any four can do it, it's those four. Reed
will have a better year than last season; not being a stuff guy,
he had to learn the hitters.... The catching will be solid. A.J.
Pierzynski and backup Tom Prince may be the best catching tandem
in the league. A year from now Pierzynski will be an every-day
player. He has soft hands and hits well in the clutch. That's a
sign of a real quality player.... This is a plus defensive club
in the infield. They're plus-plus at first, third and short, and
Luis Rivas is no slouch at second. They're a built-for-turf
team.... Cristian Guzman's arm is sound, and he'll be back for a
full season. He's a good turf hitter and has quick feet, a quick
release and a solid to above-average arm.... Brian Buchanan is a
plus runner for a big man, but he's an adequate outfielder at
projected roster with 2001 statistics
PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
2B Luis Rivas R 115 .266 7 47 31
SS Cristian Guzman S-R 73 .302 10 51 25
1B Doug Mientkiewicz L-R 151 .306 15 74 2
3B Corey Koskie L-R 46 .276 26 103 27
CF Torii Hunter R 101 .261 27 92 9
DH David Ortiz L 181 .234 18 48 1
LF Jacque Jones L 158 .276 14 49 12
RF Brian Buchanan R 236 .274 10 32 1
C A.J. Pierzynski L-R 229 .289 7 55 1
IF Denny Hocking S-R 252 .251 3 25 6
OF Bobby Kielty S-R 349 .250 2 14 3
PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
RH Brad Radke 29 15 11 6.8 1.15 3.94
LH Eric Milton 47 15 7 6.4 1.28 4.32
RH Joe Mays 34 17 13 6.9 1.15 3.16
RH Rick Reed* 73 12 12 6.3 1.20 4.05
RH Kyle Lohse 206 4 7 5.3 1.45 5.68
PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
LH Eddie Guardado 81 7 1 12 1.05 3.51
RH Mike Jackson 143 5 3 4 1.30 4.70
RH LaTroy Hawkins 251 1 5 28 1.91 5.96
New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched PVR: Player
Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Combined AL and NL stats
first season with Minnesota
second in AL Central
IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings