Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Blocked by Morneau
Tragic number as of Tuesday morning: 20, unchanged from Monday. Twins won, Tigers didn't play. The Twins need to keep that number locked in place for a while.
Garrett Jones (above) has made quite the impression in Pittsburgh since the Pirates brought him up from Triple A at the start of July. Eighteen homers in 231 at-bats? A .303 batting average? .606 slugging percentage?
The man spent six years in the Twins organization and had some 20-homer seasons in the minors, but there was never a time when one could have reasonably expected this sort of sustained production.
The Twins gave him 80-some major league plate appearances in 2007, in which he hit .200 with five extra-base hits, and let him go. They had Justin Morneau at first, and Jason Kubel to DH, and Jones wasn't — and probably isn't — much of an outfielder. He didn't get much of a chance with the Twins, and he really didn't merit one.
I was hanging around the Twins minor league complex in spring training 2008 the day the Twins outrighted Jones to the Rochester club. While the bulk of the team was working on fielding drills, the manager — Stan Cliburn — and Jones were off to the side, Cliburn talking and Jones looking over his shoulder in the direction of the major-league camp with a thousand-yard stare. Looking at his future, I thought, and he can't like what he sees.
He's 28 now, getting a sustained chance with the Pirates and doing something with it. Right now he's splitting time at first base with Steven Pearce, another minor league slugger who is aging out of the prospect label, and in right field with people like Brandon Moss, but it's Peace and Moss who sit. Jones is in the lineup every day.
Pearce and Moss are both 26; it's going to be tough for Pittsburgh to build anything if they're just stuffing their power positions with late-20s Triple A guys. They're just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Right now, Jones is sticking. Good for him.
Meanwhile back in Minnesota ... The Twins called up Justin Huber, age 26, from Triple A, another minor league hitter with limited defensive skills. Huber was signed out of Australia with the Mets, dealt to Kansas City, and basically shafted by the Royals. His major league numbers here; his minor league numbers here.
Huber is a good case study in why the Royals are such a pathetic operation. He's been a productive hitter in the minors — a line-drive hitter, some power but more attuned to hitting for average. Different shape to his numbers than Jones. But they wouldn't let him play in the majors, and unlike the Twins, it wasn't because they had obviously better options.
Consider 2005, when Huber was 23. He split the season between Double A and Triple A, and combined hit .326 with 23 homers and a .417 on-base percentage, .560 slugging. But K.C. kept tossing Matt Stairs out there. Stairs was 37.
The next year, it was Doug Mientkiewicz, age 32; then it was Ross Gload, age 31. Huber's minor league numbers weren't eye-popping, but he had to be a better option than Gload. (Now Huber's role as young hitter blocked by a recycled major leaguer has been taken by Kila Ka'aihue. The role of the recycled major leaguer is played by Mike Jacobs. They never learn.)
Huber started out as a catcher, injured his knee, switched to first base, and now sees some time in the outfield. Basically, he's a bat — and the Twins still have Morneau and Kubel, so this isn't the best place for him.
And that's the thing about first base. If Jones or Huber moved well enough to play the outfield competently, they'd have played in the majors, or at least gotten real shots, long before this. If they could play shortstop — or catch — and hit as they have in the minors, they'd be All-Stars.
But at the first base/DH end of the defensive spectrum, it's tough for people like them to get opportunities.