As first baseman, Mauer looks to catch on quickly
Position change from behind plate should net positive results for veteran
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was a strange sight when Joe Mauer strolled into the Twins' clubhouse for the first time on Monday, and didn't have his customary catcher gear with him.
Instead of going over signs in the first catchers meeting of the year on Monday morning, Mauer was getting ready to participate in workouts with the rest of the dozen or so position players who have arrived in camp early before Friday's official report date.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire did a double take upon seeing Mauer -- who is making the transition to first base -- in his workout shorts, instead of getting ready to catch his first full bullpen of the spring.
"It was really weird seeing him in the clubhouse, not going out with the pitchers and catchers and not strapped up and going out," Gardenhire said. "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."
Mauer, 30, made the decision this offseason to give up catching after suffering a season-ending concussion on a foul tip while catching on Aug. 19. The six-time All-Star and former AL Most Valuable Player consulted both team doctors and doctors from the Mayo Clinic before making the decision to move to first base.
It's still sinking in for Mauer, and he said he'll really feel it once the first official workouts begin this weekend.
"I think it'll hit me more Saturday," Mauer said. "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. But it's good."
First base isn't totally foreign to Mauer, who played 18 games there in 2011, 30 games in '12 and eight games last season. But Mauer is excited to learn the nuances of the position this spring, and plans to work with former Twins manager Tom Kelly, who arrives to camp on Friday, and is well-known for his work with first basemen.
"I've played 50 games there, but that's just scratching the surface," Mauer said. "I kind of learned on the go. I look forward to focusing a lot of attention on that this spring. I'll be on that short field with TK quite a bit."
Mauer added that he likely won't turn to video for help, as he likes to learn things while out on the field. He's already been working with first-base coach Joe Vavra on positioning at first base and said he'll also turn to Hall of Famer Paul Molitor for advice.
But the main thing Mauer is looking forward to is staying healthy, as he believes the position change will allow him to see the field more often and protect him from suffering another concussion.
"Physically, I'll be better," Mauer said. "I won't be taking foul tips off the shoulder or hand or legs. That will be nice. Not worrying about hitters as much or scouting reports during the season, I'll be able to focus on the offensive side, which will be good."
Mauer also talked this offseason with former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who began his career as a catcher, about what to expect, and Morneau told him the biggest difference will come later in the season. Mauer also tinkered with his workout plan this offseason to account for the positional change, as he doesn't have to prepare for the rigors of catching.
"He said it's a big difference," Mauer said. "He said, 'You're really going to notice it in September.' So I have a long time to wait for that, but I'm looking forward to it. It's new for me."
Mauer believes his overall offensive numbers will improve with the position change, if only because he'll be playing in more games. Mauer's career high in games played is 147, set in '12, and he has played at least 140 games in just three of his 10 years in the big leagues.
But Mauer was hesitant to make a prediction on just how much his numbers will improve, because he's still trying to simply wrap his head around the position change.
"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," Mauer said. "I'm not going to try to be anything I'm not. I'm going to go out there and just try to have good at-bats and play the game like I always have. It will just be at a different position."