You may remember in my previous post, I hinted that this topic was coming up. It is one I am strongly opinionated on. This spring, you may have seen a guy named Luke Hughes getting a lot of at bats. You may remember him last year as that kid who came up in late April and homered in his first MLB at bat. Hughes only was with the Twins for a week (A cup of coffee with the Twins, as the baseball terminology would say). And going into 2011, he is still considered the underdog in the race for a spot on the bench between him and Matt Tolbert.
Hughes, was signed by the Twins in the winter of 2002 as a free agent out of Austrailia. He made his pro debut in 2003 with the Gulf Coast League Twins and has slowly worked his way up the minor league ranks ever since. Hughes has a solid upper cut swing and hits for decent power from the right side (Something the Twins really need off the bench). He probably won't hit for a good average and he does strikeout a bit. But, he should strike some fear in the opposing pitcher rather than Matt Tolbert. Another down side to Hughes, he is a frequent visitor to the trainers room. He has never played in more than 100 games in a season as he has battled various injuries throughout the years. in 2010, knee and groin injuries cut his season short after being sent down by the Twins. Put aside the injuries, the guy can be a great help to the big league club.
Meanwhile, you have Matt Tolbert on the other side of this battle. He is more a defensive player than offensive. He came up with the Twins in 2008, and has been a up and down (Between Rochester and the Twins) player ever since. His last two years he has hit .232 and .230 respectively. His on base percentage in the last two years is a combined .300 (Hughes' minor league OBP is .332). Tolbert has very little power. An average base hit for him is a 5 hopper that just gets past the infield. He will give an occasional line drive hit, but seeing eye singles are his specialty. Defensively, he is slightly above average. He has a career .975 fielding percentage. He does have better range than Hughes on the infield and his arm is average for a second baseman (Meaning: Don't put him at short!). When Tolbert is at his best, all he can do for you is be a pinch runner to Kubel or Thome and be a backup infielder for when someone gets taken out of the game.
But what makes Tolbert the favorite to win this race is his spot in the manager's heart. Ron Gardenhire loves the hustle Tolbert displays, despite his lack of performance on the field. And at day's end, if you are in the manager's good graces, he will be giving you a spot on the big club. And not to long ago, Gardy has said that bench spots are up for grabs (Translation: Tolbert's spot isn't guaranteed). So Hughes has a chance. And if he continues to hit like he has in spring games (.370, 3 HR, 10 RBI in 10 games), Gardy has to give him very serious thought to be a bench player. Especially when Tolbert (.158 AVG in 11 games), is not off to as hot a start. Don't get me wrong I love watching hustle players like Matt Tolbert play in the big leagues. And it is fun to see them succeed. But at day's end, you have to the guy who can get it done. And it looks like Luke Hughes is that guy with each passing day...