It might seem impossible to choose a Player of the Decade from among the more than 5 million who suited up for high school baseball teams in the U.S. from 2000 to 2009. But once you know all there is to know about Joe Mauer, it's not so tough.
The Minnesota Twins catcher, regarded by some as the best hitter in baseball and named Monday as the American League's MVP, was a prep legend on multiple levels. Mauer was the national player of the year in 2001 and led his high school team to one state title in baseball and two in football. He also was one of the best basketball players in his state as a junior and senior, averaging 19.8 and 19.4 points per game.
Even if his professional accomplishments weren't considered, Mauer would be a leading candidate to be the ESPN RISE Player of the Decade and an easy choice for the ESPN RISE All-Decade All-America team. But what each player has done after high school was a consideration, and that put Mauer over the top.
The All-Decade All-American team was based on players who graduated high school between 2000 and 2009. Because many recent graduates, especially after 2006, are still working their way up through the minor leagues, a majority of the 40 players selected are from the earlier classes.
Mauer graduated from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn., in 2001. In his senior year, he hit .605, set a state record by homering in seven consecutive games and led the Raiders to a 26-1 record. Cretin-Derham Hall won its 10th Class 3A state championship and was No. 5 in the final FAB 50 rankings. It was the only state title in baseball Cretin-Derham Hall won when Mauer was there, but he was a varsity standout in 1999 as a sophomore and in 2000 as a junior. Mauer hit no lower than .542 in his prep career and struck out only once.
As a major league prospect, Mauer had the size at 6-4, 215 pounds, the throwing arm to project into a top-flight catcher and, of course, could hit for power and average. As luck would have it, the Twins had the first pick in the 2001 draft and made the locals happy by taking the hometown hero.
Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff said in a draft-day statement: "Without a doubt, Joe is the best high school athlete in the country. His talents, tools and exceptional makeup give him the chance to be an impact major league player."
Mauer said in an interview for a Student Sports Magazine cover story that the 2001 draft was "just like a fairy tale." He added, "I don't think I could have come into a better situation. It was real exciting. What happens now will depend on a lot of things."
Mauer was referring to a decision he had to make between signing with the Twins or going to Florida State to play football. Keep in mind that the Seminoles had won a national championship in 1999 and after Mauer had been named the Gatorade Player of the Year in football. Mauer threw for 3,022 yards with 41 touchdowns and just five interceptions for a Raiders team that was runner-up in the state playoffs. As a junior and sophomore, the Cretin-Derham Hall teams he played for won state titles.
Baseball eventually won out over football and soon Mauer was making a rapid ascent through the Twins' minor league system. He made his major league debut in April 2004, and it wasn't long before he was one of the game's top hitters. Mauer won batting titles in 2006 and 2008 and this season was chosen for his third appearance in the All-Star Game.
ESPN RISE Magazine staff writers and Paul Muyskens contributed to this story.