Posted at 8:20 PM on June 30, 2006
by David Zingler
In this Budget Ball era of Twins baseball, the franchise has been able to consistently field a winning team despite a high rate of roster turnover. As a result, Micheal Cuddyer has quickly become one the most veteran members of the team. Although it may surprise some, the 27-year-old trails only Torii Hunter among everyday position players in seniority.
“I am more comfortable, I guess you could say,” Cuddyer said of his unlikely veteran status. “I feel like I can be one of the leaders rather than just somebody who is on the team. I feel like I can make an impact and help guys rather than just kind of going about my business by myself.”
The Virginia native’s tenure with the team could hardly be described as smooth, however. A 1st round draft pick out of high school in 1997, Cuddyer became one of the top hitting prospects in baseball by 2001 and looked to be on the fast track to major league stardom. It didn’t work out.
Drafted as a shortstop, he split time in right field with Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr from 2002-2003 in between stops at Triple A. In 2004, Cuddyer finally stuck in the major leagues, but was used in a utility role. With the departure of Corey Koskie, the former top prospect was anointed as the Twins new third baseman in 2005, but couldn’t hold down the job.
In what must have seemed like a case of déjà vu, Cuddyer found himself back in a jumbled right field situation at the dawn of this season. “I knew I was going to be the outfield coming into spring training, but I didn’t know if I was going to have a chance to play everyday or not,” the upbeat right fielder explained. “So I just went out and tried to work, continue to get better, hoped a spot would open and it did.”
Despite his naturally optimistic nature, not even Cuddyer could have envisioned that he would be the Twins everyday clean-up hitter as July begins, “No, I didn’t expect it, but you take things in stride,” the 2001 Twins Minor League Player of the Year admitted. “I am excited to have the opportunity to be out there in the four hole everyday and trying to help us win -- right now we’re doing it.”
While the 2005 season was regarded as bust for the former third baseman, Cuddyer said the campaign wasn’t entirely lost, “It’s a little easier to sleep at night (this year),” he joked. “Last year was kind of frustrating, it wasn’t how I would liked to have gone about my business, but at the same time I was able to learn from it. Now I am ready to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Like Justin Morneau, Cuddyer gives credit to rookie hitting coach Joe Vavra for his increase in production (.272/.373/.513, 11 HR and 44 RBI as of June 30), “The main thing about (Vavra) is that he’s been positive,” the 6-year veteran pointed out. “No matter if you are swinging the bat well or swinging the bat bad, he still remains positive and still says that he believes in you...we’ve been able to feed off that positivity and have gone out there believing in ourselves.”
You get the sense that Cuddyer finally feels comfortable, having carved out a niche with the Twins. Gone are the days of swapping gloves and nervously checking the line-up card, “I’ve got the one outfielder's mit and a first baseman’s mit because I’ve played out there a couple times,” he said, giving an inventory of his locker. “All of the other gloves are still underneath -- I’ve still got ‘em, they’re just not at the top of my locker anymore.”
I'm tellin' ya, it's the hitting coach! Last year, our offense was abyssmal. This year, we get a new coach, and Morneau is hitting homers, Mauer's hitting period, Cuddyer's getting better, and overall our offense has just plain improved.