August 25, 2004

Who is Jason Kubel?

Mothers are the greatest.

My mom knows that I am completely obsessed with baseball, to the point that I spend about 98% of my free time watching it, playing it, reading about it and writing about it. And she is actually a pretty big sports fan herself, watching a few innings of Twins games a couple times a week and being quite obsessed with the Timberwolves.

Yet yesterday, she came home from work and asked me the following: "Have you ever heard of this Jason Kubel guy for the Twins? He's supposed to be the next hot prospect."

It's an innocent enough question, I suppose, and I don't want to be too harsh on her because she's still got about two weeks to deal with me before I go back to school. However, the chances of someone running a baseball blog devoted almost entirely to the Minnesota Twins, writing a weekly column on prospects for another website, and being the man in charge of a third baseball website not knowing about Jason Kubel is about the same as the chances of me being asked to introduce Johan Santana at his Hall of Fame induction.

I don't really have a point to all this, other than to say that the nice thing about being an incredibly obsessed baseball fan is that when most people finally hear that the Twins have a really good prospect named Jason Kubel, you've already known about him for years. Plus, this gives me a chance to talk a little about Kubel, who is in the middle of a spectacular season.

Here's what Kubel, the Twins' 12th-round pick back in 2000, has done so far this year between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester ...

121 469 .360 .415 .601 46 21 49 54 15

Well, my mom was right about one thing ... Kubel is definitely the Twins' hot prospect.

The Twins have a unique ability to churn out homegrown hitters who play the positions on the low end of the defensive spectrum and there's little in those numbers not to like. His walk rate isn't great, although a guy hitting .377 at Double-A and .353 at Triple-A may not be all that interested in drawing walks.

Everything else is simply outstanding. Not only is Kubel hitting .360, he has 21 homers and 42 doubles (and four triples) in 469 at-bats, which works out to an outstanding .241 Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average). He's taken advantage of being on base 41.5% of the time by stealing 15 bases at a 79% clip, and he's done a great job controlling the strike zone, with just 54 strikeouts.

Here's a look at what Kubel has done in the past ...

YEAR     LV       G      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG     D+T     HR     BB     SO

2000 R 23 78 .282 .367 .372 5 0 10 9
2001 R 37 124 .331 .422 .500 14 1 19 14
2002 A 115 424 .321 .380 .521 30 17 41 48
2003 A 116 420 .298 .361 .400 24 5 48 54

I like what I see there an awful lot. To me, when a young hitter (Kubel doesn't turn 23 until May) who has consistently posted big batting averages at every level starts adding significant power while maintaining the high batting average in the high minors, it gets me thinking about a superstar.

Kubel has played primarily right field this season and I expect that to be where he plays for the Twins next year. I've long thought that Jacque Jones is quite expendable as a player, and that will be the case more than ever this offseason, as his salary will rise again.

Rather than pay a bunch of money to Jones, a guy who can't hit lefties, refuses to show any discipline at the plate, and has rarely been anything more than an average corner outfielder offensively, I think it would definitely be in the Twins' best interest to give the job to Kubel, save the millions for something else, and see if they have another young stud on their hands.

The only real "problem" with Kubel is that he's a left-handed hitter. Now, normally this wouldn't be a problem at all, but the Twins' other two young studs, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, are also left-handed. Usually, if you had three guys with the offensive potential of the Twins' threesome, you'd end up batting them back-to-back-to-back in the lineup, either 2-3-4 or 3-4-5.

That's still an option, obviously, but batting three straight lefties in the middle of the order is not optimal. I can almost see the parade of LOOGYs (Lefty One Out GuYs) now, and Kubel hasn't even played in the majors yet. If the Twins follow my advice and jettison Jones in favor of Kubel, and decide not to make me insane by keeping and vastly overpaying Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas next year, I could see them trotting something like this out on a regular basis ...

1) Shannon Stewart - R

2) Lew Ford - R

3) Joe Mauer - L

4) Justin Morneau - L

5) Torii Hunter - R

6) Corey Koskie - L

7) Michael Cuddyer - R

8) Jason Kubel - L

9) Jason Bartlett - R

That's not quite optimal lineup construction either, thanks to the lefty/righty issue (Koskie's a lefty too), but it's close enough. That group is young, deep, and extremely exciting to think about (assuming, of course, that Mauer can catch). Now, odds are that the Twins won't enter next season with those nine, but that's what I would try to do if I were running things.

If Jason Bartlett can't cut it (he's hitting .319/.399/.472 at Triple-A this year), Nick Punto or a veteran free agent signing would be an option, and considering shortstop would almost certainly be the worst hitter in the lineup no matter who it is, they could afford the weak bat. Regardless of whether it is Bartlett or Punto or a cheap free agent, that lineup would include six players making essentially the league minimum, which is always an important factor for the Twins.

You know, I was thinking that if, for some miraculous reason, the Twins actually did enter the 2005 season with that group as their everyday lineup, I'd suddenly have very little to complain about. That might be an interesting experience.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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