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Twins still face questions

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Mauer's knee biggest concern when team reports to camp

 Knight; Ridder Newspapers

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He was the Twins' biggest question mark heading to spring training a year ago, and he is again.

Joe Mauer was an unproven rookie replacing an all-star catcher when he arrived at spring training before last season. This time, it's the health of his left knee that's unproven as the Twins wait to see if their can't-miss prospect can help them win their fourth consecutive American League Central Division title.

Twins pitchers and catchers will report to Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday, and the daily workouts that start Monday are expected finally to settle the debates waged since last summer: Did Mauer choose the right treatment?

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Even now, 101⁄2; months after Mauer underwent "routine'' surgery to remove damaged cartilage, Twins officials have no way of knowing whether his knee will support six weeks of spring training, much less 130 or more games behind the plate during a major league baseball season.

"The proof will be in what happens when he's out there three, four hours, squatting and catching and doing multiple bullpens and putting all that stress on his knees,'' said Twins orthopedist Dr. John Steubs. "That's when we'll know he's ready to do everything he has to do to catch every day. We just won't know until then.

"I'm confident he's done everything he has to do to be ready, but we just won't know until then.''

As routine as post-injury concerns are in any spring training camp, Mauer's injury has proved to be anything but routine, and it affects a player who is anything but ordinary. The St. Paul native was the organization's No. 1 draft pick in 2001, and some executives and scouts believe he can be the best catcher in the league if he fully recovers from the injury.

Mauer tore meniscus cartilage while chasing a foul pop in his second big-league game.

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