Thoughts: Luke Hughes making his case
After the signing of Jim Thome, many thought the Twins bench was set going into the season. With the departure of Nick Punto, many thought it would be Matt Tolbert taking over at the utility spot. I was one of those included, all though I did not agree with it. I have always thought of Tolbert as Nick Punto’s younger twin. Someone who can play all over the field, play great defense and not offer much at the plate. With Drew Butera and Jason Repko also on the bench, Thome is the only one who can truly be used as a late inning pinch hitting option. Then came Spring Training, and Luke Hughes.
Hughes burst onto the scene last year by homering in his first big league at bat with the Twins against the Tigers in Detroit on April 28th (my birthday). Hughes went 2-7 in two games that he played for the Twins during his call-up but that only lasted one week. His season came to an end two weeks after he returned to AAA Rochester. He was injured with a sports hernia and other groin injuries, ending his year.
Speaking to Kelly Theiser of twinsbaseball.com, Ron Gardenhire said of Hughes: “If he’d been healthy, he would have spent probably considerable time in the big leagues, because he was swinging it really good when he was down there, but it didn’t work out for him, so if he can stay healthy, he can be a force. He’s a pretty good player. He’s got some tools.”
Even with the impact he made with the big club last year, many thought it would take an injury this year for him to get another shot. That was before he came into camp, he has been tearing the cover off the ball. Hughes his hitting .370 with a .400 OBP and a .778 SLG in 27 at bats. Hughes also has 3 home runs and 2 doubles this spring.
The knock on Hughes is his defense and that he does not have much experience at shortstop like Tolbert. Hughes has mostly played 3B, 2B and occasionally some 1B. This you would think would give Gardy all the reason he needed to say there isn’t a contest. Tolbert would be with the big league club as the utility man come Opening Day. That was why I was surprised to hear Gardy say this the other day about Hughes: “He’s swinging good, playing good. Good for him. Keep doing it. That’s what you come to spring training to do open eyes and make a ballclub, and he’s swinging.”
Hughes has obviously caught Gardy and the rest of the Twins coaching staff’s eye this Spring Training. Gardy has pretty much said that there is a battle for the utility spot. Gardy also added: “I’m not afraid to put him in there. I’m not afraid to put him at first, outfield, anywhere. This is the time to do it, if you’re going to do it.”
For Twins fans this is great to hear. If Hughes can continue his Spring Training tear and carry it into the season, it will be a huge boost to the club. The Twins do not have any late inning right-handed pinch-hitting options on the bench. Hughes will definitely give them one. There really is no need for a late inning defensive replacement in the infield as that should be okay with Morneau, Nishioka, Casilla and Valencia. It makes perfect sense to bring Hughes north to Toronto for opening day instead of Tolbert. I really, really think this would be a huge move for the Twins. It would be nice to have a solid right-handed bat on the bench instead of another “gritty baseball player” as Gardy calls the likes of Tolbert and Punto.
Lets hope Hughes can keep it up. It would be best for the Twins for him to make the club. The lineup is solid and the Twins won’t have any trouble scoring runs. But it does not hurt to have some depth on the bench and extra batsto turn to if needed.