BEST TWINS PLAYER - 2002
At the end of the 1999 season, Twins first-baseman Doug Mientkiewicz was on the verge of washing out of baseball. Though always solid on defense, Mientkiewicz struggled at the plate throughout his rookie season, hitting a dismal .229 with 51 strikeouts and a paltry 32 RBIs. After he was sent down to AAA in 2000, some of us even wondered whether it was worth bothering to learn to pronounce the guy's last name. Then something miraculous happened. In the bottom of the ninth in the semifinal game against Korea at the 2000 Summer Olympics, Mientkiewicz sent a walk-off shot over the wall. He hasn't looked back since. On 2001's squad of scrappy upstarts, Mientkiewicz may have been the scrappiest, stretching fantastically for errant balls, earning a Golden Glove, and anchoring one of the better defensive units in baseball. Mientkiewicz also improved his hitting dramatically, batting .306--.236 with runners in scoring position--and driving in 74 runs. Given that Mientkiewicz's post-All-Star break hitting drought coincided with the team's biggest slump, it might be safe to say that as Mientkiewicz goes, so go the Twins.