Spring is here and so is baseball. Here in Southwest Florida, the Fort Myers Miracle open up their season at home April 5.
The Miracle are the Class A Advanced team for the Minnesota Twins, so it’s a great chance to catch a few rising stars early in their career. (In fact, read more about life in the minors in this story that we ran a couple years back.)
A few potential Hall of Famers have passed through town since the franchise moved back to Fort Myers in 1992. Here, in our opinion, are the top 10 players who wore a Miracle jersey at one point on their way to the major leagues. Disagree? Scroll down and let us know.
10. Doug Mientkiewicz: The name is tricky to spell but popular with Miracle fans, having played the 1995-96 seasons with the Miracle before eventually making the big league team in Minnesota. He returned to coach the team in 2014 and won a Florida State League Championship. Fun fact: He’s one of five players who have both an Olympic gold medal and World Series championship.
9. Roberto Kelly: Remember Roberto Kelly? He had a few good seasons, made two All-Star games and retired after a 14-year career in 2000. His stopover in Fort Myers was brief, but we’ll count it. Four hits in four games, including a home run in 1997.
8. Francisco Liriano: Briefly, Liriano was the next big thing. He posted a 2.16 ERA in his rookie year in Minnesota. But injuries derailed him shortly after. Since, he's had varying degrees of success in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Toronto, and last year, pitched out of the bullpen for the World Series champion Houston Astros. Coming up through the minors, he threw 21 games for the Miracle posting a 4.00 ERA.
7. A.J. Pierzynski: OK, hear us out on this one. Reputation aside, the journeyman catcher managed to have a pretty good career in the majors (career WAR is 24.6 if you’re into that sort of thing). Back in 1997, he hit .279 with 64 RBI over 114 games for the Miracle.
6. Michael Cuddyer: The two-time all-star quietly put together a solid career with a line of .277/.344/.461. As a 20-year-old, he hit close to .300 in Fort Myers over 130 games.
5. Corey Koskie: The third baseman was reliable for the Twins, posting a line of .280/.373/.463 over seven seasons. He retired after the 2006 season and is now a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. His one season in Fort Myers was so-so: A .260 average and 55 RBI.
4. Justin Morneau: The 2006 AL MVP hit .294 in 53 games for Fort Myers in 2001. His best years were with the Twins (from 2006-09 he had four 100-plus RBI seasons), but put up respectable numbers during short stays with the Rockies and White Sox later in his career. He retired earlier this year.
3. Torii Hunter: The five-time MLB All Star spent a little more than a season in Fort Myers as a teenager, and his line is nothing too special (.260/.328/.391). But he went on to become one of the best outfielders of his generation and a solid hitter for the Twins, Angels and Tigers.
2. Joe Mauer: Fan-favorite Mauer made a few stops in Fort Myers on rehab assignments, but his 62 games in 2003 were his longest stint; he hit .335 with 44 RBI. In his prime, he was a perennial MVP candidate, winning the award in 2009. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer at this point and with a few more good years, he could put himself over the top and maybe even overtake the No. 1 guy on our list.
1. David Ortiz: Before he was the face of the Boston Red Sox, Big Papi spent 61 games in Fort Myers as 21-year-old Twins prospect. His 13 homers and .331 average was an indication of what was to come. He’s a member of the 500-home club and played a key role in the Sox three World Series championships. Now, the debate is whether he'll make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2021.
Honorable mention: Carl Pavano, Denard Span, Todd Walker, J.C. Romero, Kyle Lohse, Jeff Cirillo, Latroy Hawkins, Matt Garza, Jacque Jones, Matt Lawton
Too soon to know: Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano