FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Home runs were few and far between during most of the 1990s for the Minnesota Twins, and as the first season of the 2000s begins, the power outage will likely continue.
The Twins hit just 105 round-trippers last season -- the least in the American League and 40 fewer than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who finished next to last. The year before, Minnesota knocked out a measly 115.
The Devil Rays added high-priced sluggers Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla in the offseason, but the Twins didn't have the millions of dollars needed for a proven slugger. They did sign Butch Huskey -- who hit 22 home runs last season with the Red Sox and Mariners -- but there isn't a Twins player who will challenge for the home run lead.
Two years ago, Matt Lawton led the team with 21 homers -- the first time a Twin hit 20 in a season since 1995. Last season, Ron Coomer led the team with 16 homers. Some top power hitters can slug 16 homers in a month.
The lack of power hurt the team, which finished last in the major leagues with 686 runs, and manager Tom Kelly was forced to manufacture runs with bunts, hit-and-run plays and steals.
Lawton, Coomer, Todd Walker and Huskey are players with experience who want to improve on disappointing performances in 1999. Lawton and Walker have hit the weight room hard and want drive the ball farther.
Besides Lawton's 21 homers in 1998, he hit 14 in 1997, his first full season. He only hit seven last season, missing six weeks because of injury and never rediscovering his hitting stroke when he returned.
''We've been talking about it for a long time,'' Lawton said of the team's potential for power. ''We just have to go out and do it.''
In the past four years, Coomer has hit 12 to 16 homers per season. Walker hit 12 homers in 1998 but slumped to six last year. Huskey, who has 77 career homers, hit a career-high 24 with the New York Mets in 1997.
Jacque Jones, Chad Allen, Torii Hunter, David Ortiz and Corey Koskie are trying to establish themselves as pros. Ortiz is the only one who didn't play in the majors last season, but his 30 homers and 110 RBI at Class AAA Salt Lake were encouraging.
Koskie, who hit 11 homers in 342 at-bats, has good power potential as well. Allen had 10 homers, and Jones and Hunter each had nine in their rookie seasons.
There's no guarantee any Twin will have a breakout power season, and there's no simple solution to the problem.
''Everyone can be part of the answer,'' Koskie said. ''We have a bunch of guys who can contribute that way. I'm just one piece of the puzzle. If I get my opportunity, I can be a part of it.''
Some believe that if Huskey got 500 at-bats (he had 386 last season), he could approach 30 homers. That hasn't been achieved by a Twin since 1987, when Kent Hrbek had 34, Tom Brunansky 32 and Gary Gaetti 31.
General manager Terry Ryan said the team will need to be patient and let players develop into hitters, then power hitters.
''(Home runs) make it easier to cut the deficit and extend the lead,'' he said. ''If you don't have those type of players on the team, then don't ask them to do something they aren't capable of doing.''
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.