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Kubel latest Twin prospect to turn heads

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The Minnesota Twins introduced Joe Mauer to us this spring, unfortunately knee problems prevented him from taking off his coat and staying for awhile.  Next, Justin Morneau was summoned from the minors and hasn’t stopped hitting homeruns ever since.  On August 31, the Twins reached back down into their deep farm system and grabbed their latest super prospect, Jason Kubel.

Kubel’s rise to the major leagues this season has been nothing short of meteoric.  The outfielder began the season at Double A New Britain where he dominated; hitting .377 with 29 RBI in 37 games before being promoted to Triple A Rochester in late May.

“I didn’t think there was much of a difference,” Kubel said of the jump from Double A to Triple A. “The pitchers are obviously a lot better each level you go up, they stay around the plate, which is good for hitters. They make you swing the bat, and that’s what I think was the only difference.”

His numbers weren’t much different either.  In 90 games at Rochester, the 22-year-old hit .343, tops in the International League, with 16 homeruns and 71 RBI.  In the two minor league stops, Kubel hit a combined .352 with 22 homers and 100 RBI, making him a leading candidate for minor league player of the year.

“It’s been a fun year,” the California native explained.  “I did good throughout the whole year, which is a change for me.  I usually do pretty good, but not as good as I have this year.  I am happy about it, it got me (to the majors) and now I am trying to stay here.

“I don’t know what it is, but I’ve felt real comfortable all year long and relaxed,” he went on to say.  “I wasn’t not trying to hard, just keep up what I’ve been doing.”

The Twins organization thought so highly of the prospect that they felt he was needed on the playoff roster, and called him up on August 31, rather than September 1 when the rosters are expanded. (Note: Major League rules dictate that players called up after August 31 are not eligible for post season play).

“That’s what I was hoping would happen, it’s kind of exciting,” Kubel said of his call up and chance to play in the postseason.  “It‘s made me work harder out here.”

Kubel, a 12th round draft pick of the Twins in 2000, didn’t have to wait long for his first major league at bat; it happened the very next day when he grounded out as a pinch hitter.  “In Spring Training, I went to pinch hit also and Gardy (Twins manager Ron Gardenhire) told me to go in there and be aggressive -- just swing it,” the left-handed hitting outfielder commented.  “I got two pitches, I don’t even know what happened, it was so fast.  I was just trying to swing at anything that was a strike and hit it somewhere.”

The rest of his first week in the big leagues was spent on the bench, however. “I am just watching the game, watching how they play here, and watching the other guys that weren’t playing,” the rookie explained.  “I am just getting the feel for this place still and looking forward to getting in there.”

Kubel could very well be the Twins right fielder on Opening Day of 2005.  The incumbent, Jacque Jones is a free agent after this season and could attract enough interest on the open market to price him out of the Twins budget.  If Jones does find a more lucrative offer elsewhere, there will be a battle between Kubel, Lew Ford, Michael Restovich, and possibly Michael Cuddyer for the vacated position.  Many feel that Kubel, who is the youngest of the group, has the most upside and is thus the early favorite.

“That’s what I am hoping for, that’s my plan at least,” Kubel responded when asked if he will be in the major leagues at the start of next season.  “I am going to try my best to get in that position, so we’ll have to see what happens.”

Following the Twins postseason run, Kubel will head southwest, where he’ll play in the Arizona Fall League, the top showcase for young talent.  After that he’ll spent the rest of the off season honing his skills.

“You can always work on something,” he said.  “(I will) pretty much do what I did last off season.”

Whatever that was, it seemed to work out just fine.

-David Zingler

This story appeared in the September 23, 2004 issue of Let's Play Softball/Baseball Magazine.