Twins minor league "dark horses" for 2010: the infield

Once upon a baseball season, there are these rare minor league players who seem to come from nowhere, are called up usually due to injury and do have an unexpected impact with the organization. You do not find those players on the top 10 talent prospect lists of a system, but players like this do exist. A recent example for the Minnesota Twins is Denard Span whose (albeit being a former first round pick) performance in the minors made the Twins to look for outfielders outside their system. Span came up in the 2008 season after Michael Cuddyer's injury and played well enough to win a staring position in 2009 and allow the Twins the luxury of trading Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy. Another similar case is Jose Mijares, who practically came out of nowhere in September of 2008 and solidified the left side of the pen for the final run.

Who are the potential dark horses in the Twins' minor leagues that might be 2010s Mijares and Span?

Here are my thoughts as far as the infielders go:

Danny Valencia is the popular choice. Actually, he is not that dark of a horse. It is almost anticipated (I should say "expected") by the Twins' fans (and front office) that Valencia will be with the club in 2010 sometime and will be the Twins' third baseman of the future. So, sorry Danny, the expectations (fair or not) are there for you.

However, there is another infielder in the Twins system who might surprise people this season. And he is Luke Hughes. Luke has a career minor league line of .270/.333/.421 including a .259/.344/.481 campaign in Rochester for 157 plate appearances before he was injured last season. The usual "knock" on Hughes is that he "is bad with the glove". My impression is that he is just playing in the wrong position, at 3B, instead of at 2B, which is his best defensive position. How good a second basement is he? There are not any advanced fielding metrics for minor leagues, I would have to resort to Fielding Percentage and Range Factor per Game (I know... but they can be just an indicator, and nothing more or nothing less). Lets look at some career numbers of 2B fielding:

Luke Huges (MiLB) : FP .971, RF/G 4.14

Nick Punto (MLB) : FP .985, RF/G 4.28
Orlando Hudson (2009) FP .984, RF/G 4.72

ok, clearly he is not at the Punto/Hudson level, yet, but he is 25 years old. Let's compare his numbers with those of another Twins' second baseman:

Matt Tolbert (MiLB) : FP .972, RF/G 4.24

That is pretty close, and Hughes is better with the bat and 3 years younger than Tolbert. If Tolbert's defense is serviceable, Hughes should be. With consistent playing at second base, he could turn into a Dan Uggla-type of player if he reaches his power potential as he gets closer to his prime. For comparison, Dan Uggla's career Minor League line is .276/.347/.442 (which is in Hughes' ballpark and that includes a .297/.378/.502 AA campaign line -569 PA- in his age 25 season, whereas Hughes has not played his age 25 season yet.) Dan Uggla's career fielding line in the minors was .962 FP and 4.41 RF/G. Does this mean that Luke Hughes can be the next Dan Uggla? No. But it means that their minor league hitting and fielding has been comparable so far and I would not be surprised if Luke Hughes is a dark horse for the Twins these season.


Anonymous said...

I agree 100%. I watched Hughes play plenty in '09 and he's actually better than the .971 % indicates. I honestly couldn't see why they scored errors on him a few times. I can think of at least 3 plays off the top of my head where I was shocked (not just surprised) that the play was called an error. Interestingly, there may be a park factor involved in this... as all 3 plays I remember, happened in Frontier Field (Rochester).

thrylos98 said...

You probably watched him play third, right? I've watched him several times, both with Rochester and New Britain, play both second and third and he clearly is better at second. He is not as bad as Brian Buscher at third, but not as good as Danny Valencia either. He is at about the Tolbert level in both positions and his bat is just beginning to develop. I think that we all will be happily surprised by Luke this season, if they give him a chance to be Rochester's daily second baseman.

dwthegreat said...

Hughes is a good pick for dark horse. I see him winning the 2B job if O-Dog doesn't return in 2011. I see only one problem in that last I heard, Hughes didn't show a lot of ambition. Do you have thoughts on this?

thrylos98 said...

"lack of ambition" for me is a term that often used as a synonymous to "I don't know how to communicate with this guy" and usually involves foreign-born players (See: Liriano and Mijares) or players who someone wants to light a fire under (See: Young)

Nicholas R.W. Henning said...

I have been saying for months that Luke Hughes will be the 28th Aussie to reach MLB. The Twins are big supporters of Aussie baseball stocks and they will get bang for their buck with Hughes. In my baseball novel "The American Dream: From Perth to Sacramento" the lead character is named Damian Hughes. Luke Hughes seems to be making a mark in Spring Training, and I hope the Twins find a place for him on the 25-man roster.

Nicholas R.W. Henning - Australian Baseball Author

thrylos98 said...

Nicholas, I would love to read your baseball novel. Yes, the Twins have a good presence in Australia and seem to be keen in getting good talent. I really like Luke and I hope that he will be a Twin for a long time. One encouraging thing is that so far in Spring Training, he has been playing mainly on second base, which is his best position (today he played in LF, while the manager's son played at 2B, but...). Take care!