Monday, February 13, 2012

Bench Buddies Series: Luke Hughes

At the beginning of last week I started examining the players who could play an important role off of the bench for the 2012 version of the Minnesota Twins. During the 2011 season, the Twins saw many bench players having to shift from their supporting role into major players on a squad riddled by injuries. The position players for the Twins will report to the team's complex in Florida on February 23rd and the organization hopes that many of these bench players can solidify their role with the team.

If you missed any of last week's profiles in the "Bench Buddies Series," you can find each of the links below:
Trevor Plouffe: Can he find his bat at the big league level?
Tsuyoshi Nishioka: Things have to go better in 2012...Right?
Drew Butera: Will carrying a third catcher be a benefit for the Twins?

The next man up on the list of candidates for the Twins bench was in the news last week after he hurt his shoulder during an offseason league in Australia. It will take 3-4 weeks to heal and this means he might have to rush to get back on the field during the middle of spring training.
Bench Buddy Player: Luke Hughes

2011 stat summary: .223/.289/.338, 7 HR, 12 DBL, 30 RBI, 31 R, 96 G

2011 season story line: Hughes debuted with the Twins back in 2010 but he was only able to make appearances in two contests before being sent back down. He did make a powerful impression by hitting a home run in his first plate appearance. After eight seasons in the minor leagues, the Twins were hoping to see some more of that power at the big league level in 2011. There were plenty of rough patches throughout the year for Hughes but he did offer some versatility on the defensive side of the ball.

Out of the six months in the 2011 MLB season Hughes hit .200 or under in three of them. The month of August was a bright spot in the 2011 campaign as Hughes batted .256/.341/.641 with four home runs and 11 runs batted in. In all of the other months of the season, he failed to hit more than one home run and he had single-digits under the RBI column. During the month of June, he posted a season high batting average of .270 and he a career-high for hits in a month with 20.

Because of injuries to other players, the Twins utilized Hughes around the infield during 2011. He spent most of his time between second base and first base but he also got time at third base and designated hitter. His defense was solid enough for the Twins to have him in line to be a utility player for the 2012 season.

2012 role and expectations: Before he injured his shoulder last week while trying to avoid a tag at home plate, the Twins had to be impressed with the numbers Hughes was putting up during winter ball. In 19 games with the Perth Heat, Hughes batted .344 in 64 at-bats, driving in 13 runs while hitting four home runs and eight doubles. With Hughes expected to be out 3-4 weeks with his injury, he is likely to miss the first hand full of spring training games.

One item working in the favor of Hughes is the fact that he is out of minor league options. This should translate to him being given a spot on the bench when the team heads to Baltimore for Opening Day. If he fails to earn a spot on the bench, the Twins would have to trade his rights or risk losing him over the waiver wire. So barring further injury, fans can expect to see the 27-year old infielder for most of the 2012 season. 

For his minor league career, Hughes was a .268/.330/.419 hitter who showed brief glimpses of his power potential. In his rookie season, Hughes struggled with many aspects on the offensive side of the ball. The Twins had hoped the successful winter league season for Hughes would translate into more production on the field in 2012. It will be interesting to keep an eye on Hughes during the spring to see how much he is impacted by his shoulder injury. Terry Ryan seemed to be relieved about the results of the MRI and the rest of the organization would be relieved if Hughes can improve on his numbers for the coming season.


jimCrikket said...

There's part of me that wonders whether this could give the Twins some extra time to decide whether to keep Hughes with the Twins. Could he start the season on the DL? I mean... you KNOW how those pesky shoulder injuries can some times take SOOOOO long to completely heal, right?

NoDak Twins Fan said...

That was one of my thoughts too. Especially with the Twins training staff...