Likely Starter: Michael Cuddyer
2005 stats: .263/.330/.428, 12 HR, 42 RBI
Potential Backups: Lew Ford, Jason Kubel
Last year, at this time, we were writing about Cuddyer being the starting third baseman, replacing Corey Koskie. This year, we are talking about his last chance as a Twin.
Cuddyer's start last year was atrocious after a hot spring, as he hit was his usual inept self in April. In April last year, Cuddyer hit .205 with only one homer. Since Cuddyer has always gotten off to a late start, as he is much better post-All Star break, you have to wonder if he can hold on to any job.
However, the likely scenario is that he'll get the job and lose it. When, in May, Gardy can't take his terrible batting and ability to hit into double plays, his likely replacement will be Jason Kubel.
I say this for two reasons. For one, it appears that Lew Ford will be the fourth outfielder this season. That makes sense. Lew may be a better option than Cuddyer in right, as he has so far proven to be a better hitter in the big leagues and is a better defender. However, since he can play all the outfield positions, he's a very useful bench player, especially if Torii Hunter gets hurt.
Secondly, it appears that Kubel is getting seriously consideration for the spot in right field. Recently, in both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, this was noted. LaVelle quoted Gardy as saying, "He got that second base hit with a man on third, and I said right away, 'This young man is really going to make it interesting as we go along here in spring. Your thought is on the cautious side, but let me tell you what, he's swinging pretty good, and he's moving pretty good, and if he's the best player out there, that's who will be playing out there."
He notes that, however, the competition will likely remain between Ford and Cuddyer. This will likely prevail, if only because Kubel is still working his way back from major knee surgery. The predicted scenario will have him going back to the minors for a little bit to get his swing fully back and then to bring him up. That makes sense, just because he need not sit on the bench for all of April only to get rusty.
All in all, the predictions for stats are a little hard to say. To me, this is Cuddyer's last chance with the organizaton that has given him so many chances since he was choosen in the first round back in 1997. I just don't believe that he'll make it past April. If he isn't traded, he'll become a utility guy, which seems the most suitable role for him anyways. With that in mind, I see Cuddyer with a .245/.325/.430 line at the end of the year with around 8 HRs and 30 RBI in about 200 ABs. Kubel, getting the job around May, should hit around .280/.350/.440 with 10 HRs and 50 RBI while Ford, possibly getting more time with the injury concerns surrounding Hunter and Stewart and the likely caution Gardy will show with Kubel, will produce a .270/.345/.425 line with 7 HRs and 40 RBI.
Overall, I still say it would be better to start the year with Kubel in right or even Ford. However, this is Cuddyer's last hurrah. In a way, I'd love to see him finally produce up to his potential, but I just do not see it happening. Because of that, I'll still look forward to seeing what Kubel can do out there when the job is finally his.