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Relevant Reflections From Michael Cuddyer's Playing Career

Today at Twins Daily we are excited to announce that Michael Cuddyer will be our special guest at the Winter Meltdown, now less than two weeks away. (Last-chance tickets go on sale Tuesday morning.)

For a couple of reasons, Cuddyer feels like a fitting choice to have on-stage as we look ahead to the 2019 season. The story of his playing career holds acute relevance for this year's team.
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson, USA Today
Cuddyer, who played in 1,139 games for Twins and was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 2017, is known for many things: His dimpled smile. His cannon arm. His magic tricks in the clubhouse. His slugging prowess.

From my view, there are two specific elements of Cuddyer the player that are worth reflecting on for Twins fans at this moment in time.

#1: Cuddyer is a poster child for the circuitous path to stardom

As a high school shortstop in Chesapeake, VA, Cuddyer emerged as one of the top prep talents in the country. The Twins selected him ninth overall in 1997. He went straight to Single-A and raked, ascending the minor-league ranks rapidly and bypassing Triple-A entirely on his way to an MLB debut at age 22. From 1999 through 2003 he was a perennial Top 100 prospect according to Baseball America, peaking at #17 in his last year of eligibility.

Cuddyer's initial ascent to the big leagues was as smooth as could be. His acclimation there was anything but. From 2001 through 2005, he yo-yoed back and forth between the majors and minors, continually crushing Triple-A but failing to establish himself at the highest level.

Not until he was 27 did Cuddyer finally turn the corner, posting an .867 OPS in 2006 with 24 homers, 41 doubles and 109 RBIs in a career-high 150 games. He was a key component of a team that won 96 games. From there he went on to slash .281/.347/.468 and hit 165 home runs over the remainder of his career, making two All-Star teams.

It's helpful to remember this path as we look at the various current Twins players who seem to be stuck in neutral (or worse). Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, like Cuddyer, were both highly touted prospects that arrived in the majors at a young age but have failed to gain full traction. They're both 25 now.

Max Kepler, who follows Cuddyer in Minnesota's right field lineage, may be a more apt parallel. Like Cuddyer, Kepler earned himself a September call-up at age 22 following a monster year at Double-A. And like Cuddyer, Kepler's MLB production stagnated in the years following:

Michael Cuddyer, OPS+
2002: 95
2003: 97
2004: 100
2005: 97
2006: 124

Max Kepler, OPS+
2016: 96
2017: 95
2018: 96
2019: ?

Granted, Kepler hasn't really had to fight for his playing time like Cuddyer did; he's been a regular ever since he arrived, despite the unspectacular offensive numbers. This is, in part, because of his elevated defensive value. But don't despair too much about the lack of offensive progression so far. Out of Cuddyer's 17 Wins Above Replacement accumulated in the big leagues, 15 came after he turned 26. Kepler turns 26 on February 10th.

#2: Cuddyer was a model of defensive versatility

When I think about Cuddyer playing the field, I picture him out in right, gathering a carom off the Metrodome's baggy and spinning around to rifle it toward the infield. It's easy to forget, now, that he moved all over the place. In his career, Cuddyer played at least 500 innings at five different positions (RF, LF, 1B, 3B, 2B). He wasn't great at all of them, but having the option to plug him in at so many spots was a major convenience for Ron Gardenhire.

The current Twins will need to embrace this kind of flexibility, to the extent they can. Rostering a full-time DH like Nelson Cruz puts a further crunch on what'll likely be a short bench. Rocco Baldelli's life will be made easier if some players are able to help out at multiple positions, as Cuddy did.

This is another possible connection to Kepler. I've suggested before that it'd be wise to get him up to speed at first base, given his past experience there. Eddie Rosario's brief but flashy appearance in the infield last year may have had substance (he did play second for a spell in the minors). Jonathan Schoop would be an even bigger asset if he could step in at third here and there to spell Sano.

I'd like to hear about how Cuddyer kept his skills sharp enough that even at age 32, in his last season with the Twins (2011), he was able to make 41 starts at first base and 17 at second, in addition to his 77 games in right field. I also want to hear about how he dealt with the discouragement of setbacks and sideways progress over four years between reaching the majors and becoming a true bona fide big-leaguer. These insights are not only compelling to the longtime Twins fan in me who enjoys reminiscing upon the team's greatest era of my lifetime, but also for the forward-looking fan in me who sees similar scenarios playing out before my eyes.

Fortunately, I'll have a chance to hear Cuddyer talk about these topics and more on January 26th at the Winter Meltdown, along with all of you who are able to attend. For those who aren't, the Q&A session will (hopefully) be available via John and Aaron's podcast.

Feel free to share your favorite Cuddyer memories in the comments section – especially if you can connect them to any current Twins narrative.

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35 Comments

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Brock Beauchamp
Jan 13 2019 11:00 PM

Oh, I remember Cuddyer's "defensive versatility" too well (only said half tongue in cheek). I screamed for him to get time at third for a couple of years as the Twins trotted out some of the most atrocious third basemen in memory while Cuddyer rode the bench.

 

With that said, he turned into a much better overall player than I expected, though he was never actually good in the field no matter where you put him.

 

But that arm.

    • diehardtwinsfan, Twins33, TheLeviathan and 3 others like this
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Channing1964
Jan 14 2019 12:56 AM
What a Great Twin he was and what an honorit was to watch him play for us. I would just like to say Thank you "Mr Magic" You are one of the things I refer to when i talk about the "Twins Way" You played anywhere we needed you to and you were a model citizen and a Class guy! God Bless you.
    • glunn, Hosken Bombo Disco, Dakota Diver and 1 other like this
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Aerodeliria
Jan 14 2019 07:57 AM
I agree that Kepler is a more reasonable comparison due to the strikeouts vs. walks. Interesting, Buxton was able to draw 76 walks back in 2013 in AA ball. The 105 Ks don't seem particularly troubling in light of the free passes. Perhaps in this Rocco world, he can revisit a bit more patience, bunt a lot more and just try to put the ball in play with two strikes. It's a pity he has been striking out as much as he has, as a walk or bunt single would essentially be a double with his speed
    • glunn likes this
I remember back on those teams when people would do their pre-season batting orders they would be penciling in Cuddyer as the full time 2Bman so they could get other supposed better options out on the field.
    • glunn likes this
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Aerodeliria
Jan 14 2019 08:06 AM
I inadvertently posted before I had finished. I wanted to add that I was sorry to see Michael Cuddyer leave the Twins when he did, but at least he's bwcame a Twins HOFer so will remain a Twin for life.
    • Seth Stohs and glunn like this

For me Cuddyer'stenure with the Twins has been marked by his lackadaisical effort to break the ball loose from Pierczynski in game 163 at Chicago, and his nonchalant post game comments after the loss, like it was just another ballgame...

 

The poster boy of embracing and applauding the just not good enough era of Twins' baseball.

    • ewen21 likes this

I remember following him as a prospect and thinking his name was pronounced CUD-dee-er. It wasn't until I heard Herb Carneal say Cu-DYE-er that I learned the true pronunciation.

 

I was way more wrong with Mientkiewicz....

    • ashbury, glunn and MN_ExPat like this
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birdwatcher
Jan 14 2019 08:24 AM

 

For me Cuddyer'stenure with the Twins has been marked by his lackadaisical effort to break the ball loose from Pierczynski in game 163 at Chicago, and his nonchalant post game comments after the loss, like it was just another ballgame...

 

The poster boy of embracing and applauding the just not good enough era of Twins' baseball.

 

 

You made my day, thrylos!!!

 

Gotta run. Coffee on my keyboard.

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
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Nick Nelson
Jan 14 2019 09:35 AM

 

For me Cuddyer'stenure with the Twins has been marked by his lackadaisical effort to break the ball loose from Pierczynski in game 163 at Chicago, and his nonchalant post game comments after the loss, like it was just another ballgame...

 

The poster boy of embracing and applauding the just not good enough era of Twins' baseball.

"Lackadaisical"

 

    • ashbury, Seth Stohs, glunn and 5 others like this
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Nick Nelson
Jan 14 2019 09:38 AM

I'd love to hear Thrylos as the announcer for Game 7 of the '91 World Series.

 

"Here's the pitch... lazy drive to center field... Puckett ranging back... takes a half-hearted leap at the wall... ohhh, looks like it somehow managed to land in his glove. He bounces off the wall and throws a wimpy five-hopper back toward the infield."

    • Brock Beauchamp, ashbury, Seth Stohs and 9 others like this

 

I'd love to hear Thrylos as the announcer for Game 7 of the '91 World Series.

 

"Here's the pitch... lazy drive to center field... Puckett ranging back... takes a half-hearted leap at the wall... ohhh, looks like it somehow managed to land in his glove. He bounces off the wall and throws a wimpy five-hopper back toward the infield."

 

Nice try :)

 

Unlike Cuddyer,Puckett took the team on his back and won two rings, and did not mouth afterwards...

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Nick Nelson
Jan 14 2019 10:03 AM

With all due respect, based on your description of his effort at home plate I'm gonna go ahead and assume you're mischaracterizing whatever comments he made. 

 

It takes more than one player to win a ballgame. Cuddyer had one of the team's two hits and was the only one to move past first base. If you wanna criticize the guy do so with some level of intellectual honesty, please. 

    • birdwatcher, flags and MN_ExPat like this

 

"Lackadaisical"

 

Seeing Griffey Jr. in a Whitesox uniform made me shudder.Glad he only hit three of 630 homers for them.

    • Twins33 and Doctor Wu like this

 

For me Cuddyer'stenure with the Twins has been marked by his lackadaisical effort to break the ball loose from Pierczynski in game 163 at Chicago, and his nonchalant post game comments after the loss, like it was just another ballgame...

 

The poster boy of embracing and applauding the just not good enough era of Twins' baseball.

Just what more did you expect him to do there? He was too far from the plate for any kind of slide. He hit the catcher and his arm and went over him and managed to get his knee on the plate. The only thing that didn't happen is the catcher didn't drop the ball, which goes to the credit of the catcher. The real goat here was the third base coach.

    • glunn, Hosken Bombo Disco and MN_ExPat like this
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Tom Froemming
Jan 14 2019 12:10 PM

It was so weird when they tried to work Cuddyer in as a second baseman while he was still also trying to learn how to hit major league pitching. Versatility is great, but I think you can definitely find yourself in a place where you're asking a guy to do too many things at once. Kinda like asking Miguel Sano to play outfield ...

 

Anyway, it was very satisfying to see Cuddy breakout/establish himself in that great 2006 season for the Twins. There were so many amazing things going on that summer. Cuddyer did a lot of things well, fit into the big picture nicely between all the lefty hitters back then and seems like a great guy to be around. 

    • glunn, birdwatcher, diehardtwinsfan and 2 others like this

Cuddyer's bad defense shifted the momentum in the 2002 ALCS. The Angels knew exactly where to hit the ball in that game. I don't think losing that game deflated the Twins so much as it empowered the Angels. The rest of the series wasn't close.

 

Cuddyer did some great things in the final years of his Twins career. He is a guy the Twins should have kept around, but the modus operandi at that moment was to get rid of everybody, so....

    • ewen21 likes this
What I liked about Cuddyer is he was a team first guy. As pointed out in the story, he was moved around a lot. Even after he was established as a fine right fielder, he was moved around a lot as needed during a season. He adapted well to this, not all players seem to.

I don't agree with the opinion that he was lackadaisical or was uncaring about winning. I doubt if you can have too many player with Cuddyer's attitude and effort.
    • glunn, Hosken Bombo Disco and MN_ExPat like this

 

 

"Lackadaisical"

 

 

Yeah. That's not lackadaisical, but it's certainly not focusing on touching the base either. His strategy on the play seemed to be: let's just try to crash into Pierzynski's face. It's like he was trying to reenact the scene from A League of Their Own.

I probably would not have run on such a shallowly hit ball, and if I had I would have attempted to slide and try to knock the ball out, but it is what it is.

 

The White Sox were very good that year, btw. It was not a bad mark to lose to them.

I don't understand how Cuddyer has become questionable in any light. 

 

I hope I get a chance to shake his hand and if I get that chance... I will proudly do so. 

 

For 11 Years he competed for my team. He is one of us. He has my full respect. 

 

 

 

 

 

    • glunn, diehardtwinsfan, snepp and 4 others like this

 

For me Cuddyer'stenure with the Twins has been marked by his lackadaisical effort to break the ball loose from Pierczynski in game 163 at Chicago, and his nonchalant post game comments after the loss, like it was just another ballgame...

 

The poster boy of embracing and applauding the just not good enough era of Twins' baseball.

He said, "we had a successful season" after being swept out by the Yankees in a non competitive series in 2010.That really REALLY stuck in my craw.  

 

He was one of my favorites during that 2006 dream run, but that changed when he assumed the role of "voice of the Twins" the next season.Didn't think he needed to be the quote machine he became and I actually think he could have had a better, more consistent career as a hitter.I thought he was, as you say, sort of a complacent types

    • Thrylos likes this

 

Yeah. That's not lackadaisical, but it's certainly not focusing on touching the base either. His strategy on the play seemed to be: let's just try to crash into Pierzynski's face. It's like he was trying to reenact the scene from A League of Their Own.

I probably would not have run on such a shallowly hit ball, and if I had I would have attempted to slide and try to knock the ball out, but it is what it is.

 

The White Sox were very good that year, btw. It was not a bad mark to lose to them.

GOD that was horrible.I was drinking a bottle of Jameson's Irish Whiskey that night.Such a brutal loss

 

I can't killhim for what he did as a rookie in that Angels series.Adam Kennedy.

MY GOD did that suck!

    • glunn and Doomtints like this

I like the Grateful Dead a lot. People used to scream for Phil Lesh to get a chance to sing at Dead shows. Phil's voice was absolutelyterrible.

 

I say this to point out that die hard fans of things often have terrible takes on those very same things. 

I saw the Grateful Dead in 1987. Was not impressed

 

I remember following him as a prospect and thinking his name was pronounced CUD-dee-er. It wasn't until I heard Herb Carneal say Cu-DYE-er that I learned the true pronunciation.

 

I was way more wrong with Mientkiewicz....

I thought it was CUDD-yer at first

Pretty unfortunate pronunciation, to say the least

 

I thought Sano was Say no

Miguel Angel Say no

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tarheeltwinsfan
Jan 14 2019 07:56 PM

I remember 2 years ago at spring training as I watched through the wire fence, close enough to hear the talking on the field, Cuddyer told Torii Hunter that he (Cuddyer, remember Cuddyer hit right-handed) could hit a baseball off the tee over the right field fence. if Hunter gave Cuddyer 10 swings. The first 9 swings Cuddyer failed. Hunter was laughing and letting Cuddyer hear all about it. Thelast swing sent the baseball over the right field fence. Hunter completely lost it and Cuddyer let Hunter hear about it as together they walked off the training field. It was one of my best baseball memories. Ever!

    • lecroy24fan, glunn, diehardtwinsfan and 4 others like this

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