Strong Start Not Enough for Luke Hughes
By Wally Fish
Luke Hughes opened a lot of eyes in the early part of the spring training, but his performance at the plate tailed off quite a bit as the Grapefruit League schedule rolled along. In the end his hot start wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster and he has been optioned to Triple-A Rochester.
Joining Luke in his trek to Triple-A will be RHP-Anthony Slama and RHP-Jim Hoey. Neither of the two pitchers optioned should come as much of a surprise.
Thanks to a “stress reaction” in his elbow, Slama was limited to just one official inning of work on February 28th and is currently on a throwing program.
He obviously lost a lot of time but he was in all likelihood ticketed for Triple-A barring a stunning spring performance anyway. The only mild surprise – and I suppose it could be viewed as good news – is that he is not being placed on the major league 15-day DL. There is little doubt in my mind that, if healthy, we will see Slama up at some point this season and it doesn’t appear that the elbow injury is going to be a significant obstacle going forward.
Jim Hoey throws hard but that’s about it right now. His lack of control isn’t helping matters much either. In 9.2 spring innings he allowed 10 H, 7 ER and 3 HR en route to a lackluster spring and 6.52 ERA. He struck out only 6 while walking 5. Spring training stats don’t mean a lot in a majority of cases, but in the case of Hoey they reaffirm what we see in track record. Measured in both stats and scouting, he seems like a long shot to have any kind of success at the major league level. If he logs time with the Twins this season then he either found some control and a quality offspeed offering or a terrible virus swept through the Twins bullpen. I was completely on board with the organization trading away J.J. Hardy regardless of the return, but Hoey is not doing Bill Smith any favors with the fan-base right now.
Luke Hughes will play a role in the fortunes of the 2011 Twins, of that I have no doubt. This move of course means that Matt Tolbert wins the infield utility role and I’m perfectly okay with that. Since March 18th, Hughes has just one hit – a HR – in 21 at bats. He led the team in HR and RBI this spring with 6 and 15 respectively and his 65 at bats also led the team. There is no question that the organization gave him a long and honest look to win a job, but in the end he came up just short. The questions about his defense surely played a part in that as well.
Matt Tolbert may be viewed as “Gardy’s guy” but looking at things from a big picture perspective and without any biases, he was the right guy to take north. While Hughes was fading, Tolbert was coming on strong. Since March 18th – the start of Hughes’ slump – Matt had 6 hits in 11 at bats and is now currently hitting 0.316/.372/.395 on the spring. On top of that, he’s more versatile and sure-handed defensively than Luke which obviously were playing in his favor all along. While Tolbert can’t hold a candle to Hughes’s power potential, he’s not completely worthless at the plate and fits the profile of the typical utility infielder quite nicely. If the major league roster is at full strength and the team has either Kubel or Thome to provide a power bat off the bench, then Tolbert is the logical and correct choice to fill out the roster.
That said, injuries happen and things change so Luke Hughes will get his chance in 2011.