Thursday, February 02, 2006

Morneau's Picture Cloudy In Minnesota

Anyone who has ever seen 1B Jason Morneau hit moonshots off the scoreboard clock at the Minnesota Twins minor league park in Rochester, N.Y., knows why many predicted the 23-year-old Canadian would be the first Twin to hit 30 homers since Kent Hrbek in 1987. At first it looked as though Morneau would live up to the hype when he was called up in '04 and pushed 1B Doug Mientkiewicz out the door. Morneau immediately claimed the cleanup spot and batted .271 with 19 HRs in only 280 ABs. Since then, however, Morneau's stock has plummeted after he was stricken with appendicitis, chicken pox, pleurisy, pneumonia and impacted wisdom teeth during his five-month sophomore off-season. And this from a player whose minor league career was marred by sprained knee ligaments, elbow surgery, a broken toe and an intestinal virus which caused him to lose 20 pounds. By the time '05 spring training rolled around, doctors had limited him to an excercise program of no more than easy walking and light lifting. If that wasn't enough, he was beaned by Seattle reliever Ron Villone, went down hard iand had to come out of the game with a concussion April. Suddenly the Twins supposed big-time cleanup hitter was relegated to a lot of bench time and batting in the six- and seven-hole, and finished his season batting just .239 with 22 HRs in 490 ABs. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that poor Justin was just unlucky and that with his potential he's a great, "under-the-radar" mid-round value pick. The opposite side of the coin, however, is that Morneau's potential is not up, but down, with a continued pattern of illness and injury. Morneau is reported to be working out and in good health in Arizona, but the most disturbing aspect of his outlook is that Twins manager Rod Gardenhire seems to be going into spring training with a bias against Morneau. Gardenhire plans to continue to bat Morneau in the sixth hole or lower, thus curtailing his RBI potential and undermining Morneau's protection in an already marginal batting order.