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02/21/09 8:24 PM EST
Hughes surging toward bigger stage
Twins prospect's jump in power numbers opens eyes
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For nearly a year, Luke Hughes has been asked the same question over and over again: Where did that power surge come from? Last April, the 24-year-old Hughes went from a little-known Twins prospect to a potential long-term answer to the club's third-base issues. Hughes gained notice after he hit eight home runs and batted .354 in the first month of the season as the third baseman for Double-A New Britain. It nearly matched his power production from the previous season, which was a career-high nine home runs.
The Perth, Australia native was coming off a winter in which he played in the Olympic qualifier for his country's national team and had worked on making a few changes to his swing. But the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Hughes admits that even he didn't have any idea that kind of jump in power was coming.
"Everyone has asked me that question about the homers, and I wish I had a better answer," Hughes said with a chuckle. "It was just one those months I guess where everything went right. I wasn't missing much."
It turned out to be more than a one-month surge for Hughes. By the Major League All-Star break, Hughes was batting .328 with 15 home runs and 37 RBIs for New Britain and earned himself a trip to the Futures Game.
Hughes' strong first half could have been even better. A hamstring injury sidelined him in May, and while trying to hurry back from that, he suffered a groin injury. In total, the injuries kept him off the field for nearly a month.
The injuries came at a time when the Twins were searching for middle-infield help due to an onslaught of injuries themselves. Hughes appeared to have an outside shot at getting called up had it not been for his own injuries slowing him down.
"It's just disappointing, because everyone was saying to me that I would have gone up to Triple-A earlier if I hadn't gotten hurt, or maybe I'd have earned a shot elsewhere, too," Hughes said. "But I couldn't help that. Getting hurt is part of the game, and even though you try not to, it happens."
A utility player for the Rock Cats in 2007, Hughes was moved to third base last season in an attempt to find him a permanent position. Prior to that, Hughes had played second base and even saw time in the outfield in '07.
The feeling within the organization is that Hughes still needs work defensively before he'll be ready for the big leagues, and the Twins are still unsure whether third base will be his permanent position.
"I'm getting more comfortable there," Hughes said of third base. "I play second base more naturally, but I'm learning the position and the different hops that you get there. They don't call it the hot corner for nothing; it's a lot quicker than playing at second base."
The hope was that Hughes would be able to work on his defense at third while playing two months of winter ball in Venezuela. But after one week of playing third base for Tigres de Aragua, Hughes was shifted to the outfield and spent the rest of his time there.
"We had four big league guys on the team who played third and that got hard to get us all time," Hughes said. "It was interesting playing there for the first week. Then I played the field, which was fine, I was still playing."
Although Saturday marked the first full-squad workout for the Twins, Hughes has been spending a lot of time in recent days doing some fielding drills at third base. He even took advantage to seek out former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie, who has been working on the back fields of the complex trying to get ready to play for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
"I was lucky enough the other day to field some ground balls with Corey Koskie and had a chat with him about some stuff," said Hughes, who will play for Australia in this year's Classic. "It was cool. I always like to talk to guys that have been in the big leagues before about fielding and hitting. I'm always just trying to pick up little things."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Friday that he's eager to see Hughes in some fielding drills. Gardenhire, like so many others, was intrigued by Hughes during his early surge last season, and now he's happy to get the chance to see what the player can do during his time in camp.
"I'll finally get a chance to see him," Gardenhire said. "I haven't been around him at all. Now we'll get a chance to see a lot more him during some games and in the Good Morning America drill. And we'll get to see what his best position is as we go."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.