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Is There Any Hope For Justin Morneau?

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Is There Any Hope for Justin Morneau?

I first became aware of Justin Morneau shortly before the 1999 draft, when a scout told me he was a player to watch closely in the draft. The scout compared him to "Larry Walker without speed," and said that Morneau would have been a certain first-round pick if he was from the US rather than Canada. I was quite happy when the Twins snared Morneau in the third round, and was ecstatic when Morneau hit .402 in rookie ball in 2000. He blistered the ball in 2001 and 2002, with increasing power production to go with his batting average at a young age. Morneau slammed 19 homers and 17 doubles in just 74 games for the Twins in 2004, and looked like a sure offensive star heading into 2005. But he has struggled since then. While he has continued to hit home runs (8 already this year), his batting average and OBP are slipping. In 986 career at-bats, he currently holds a .245/.312/.462 line, certainly not as good as expected.

Is there any hope that Morneau can live up to his early potential?

Well, sure. The main thing is that he doesn't turn 24 until next week. His strikeout rate is not out of bounds for a power hitter. His list of comparable players is an interesting mix

Carmelo Martinez
Richie Sexson
Paul Konerko
Nate Colbert
Mo Vaughn
Mike Marshall
Brad Fullmer

Some of those guys turned into star sluggers, some didn't.

It's not too late for Morneau; there is hope. But from watching him play over the last couple of years, sometimes he looks, well, confused at the plate, like he takes a different approach from at-bat to at-bat. Sometimes it looks like he's trying to be a contact hitter. Other times he seems to swing from the heels.

I have noticed this with other Twins power-hitting prospects over the last ten years. Something doesn't seem to be clicking with the type of instruction that the Twins give their young power hitters. This is the exact opposite of the problem that the franchise had when I was a kid: it used to be that they had lots of young hitters but that the pitching prospects seldom panned out. Now the pitchers turn out well, but the hitters tend to disappoint. As a Twins fan, and as an analyst, it is frustrating to watch.

It is not at all too late for Justin Morneau. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if he doesn't really blossom until he moves on to another team.