On Saturday, Luke Hughes went 5-5 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI. On Sunday, he went 2-3 with another home run. That raised his spring training numbers to .385/.429/.795 (1.223) with four doubles, four home runs and 13 RBI.
When the 2011 season ended, TwinsCentric released its Offseason GM Handbook. In my offseason blueprint, I suggested that Luke Hughes be the Twins second baseman in 2012 with Alexi Casilla moving back to the utility role. I targeted Clint Barmes for shortstop, but the Twins signed Jamey Carroll and Barmes went to the Pirates (and I still really like the Carroll signing). [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
Coming into spring training, Hughes was injured. He had a shoulder injury while playing in his hometown, Perth, in the Australian Baseball League. He went from being out of options and a likely bench role to questions about if he could start the season on the DL. Some even asked if he would clear waivers should the Twins decide to remove him from the 40 man roster.
And now, I have to bring a question back to the Twins Daily readers; Should Luke Hughes be the Twins starting second baseman?
Do spring training statistics mean anything? Consider that in 2011, Hughes hit .246/.265/.569 with three doubles and six home runs. He was the final cut, but it wasn’t long before he was called back up to the Twins where he hit .223/.289/.338 (64-287) with 12 doubles and seven home runs. Spring Training is such a small sample that generally it doesn’t offer any suggestion on regular season success. If you are looking for one nugget to believe that his 2012 is different, check out his walk to strikeout rate. Last spring, he walked twice and struck out 17 times. This season, he has three walks and five strikeouts.
And frankly, if spring training statistics mean something, Casilla is hitting .355/.429/.387.
When it comes to defense, the assumption is that Casilla is significantly better than Hughes, and for me, it would be hard to argue. Hughes has never been known for his glove, and with Casilla’s speed, we assume he has more range. UZR is just one way to look at defense, and frankly, it’s probably not the best when comparing a single season. Alexi Casilla’s 2011 UZR at 2B was 0.9 and his UZR/150 was 2.2. Luke Hughes 2011 UZR at 2B was 1.3 while his UZR/150 was 4.9.
When it comes to offense, Casilla and Hughes are like night and day. Casilla is a speedster with little power in his bat. Hughes is not swift-of-foot, but he does have tremendous power. Casilla is a switch-hitter, while Hughes bats right handed. Casilla puts the ball in play 2.5 times more frequently than Hughes.
Neither has really been a beacon of health in their careers. Because they are such different players, it is not an easy decision.
So, why would I advocate Luke Hughes as the Twins starting second baseman? Here are a few reasons:
Casilla has had a lot of opportunities as a starter. I’m not saying that he doesn’t deserve to be the starting second baseman in 2012. After a horrible first six weeks to his 2011, he played well the rest of the season. However, Luke Hughes has never been given an opportunity at an every day job. It may prove that he doesn’t deserve it, but I would take my chances.
Secondly, Casilla’s best season overall was in 2010 when he was the Twins utility infielder. As the roster sits right now (with Hughes as the utility infielder), there really is not a backup shortstop. In fact, the backup shortstop would probably be Casilla, but that is something Gardy typically does not like to do. Instead of forcing someone like Pedro Florimon onto the roster, Casilla can just be the utility player. From a roster management standpoint, Casilla as utility infielder certainly makes more sense.
Third, the Twins regular lineup contains Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Chris Parmelee, the switch-hitting Ryan Doumit and occasionally Ben Revere. Casilla is a switch hitter, but I think that adding another powerful right-handed bat could help even up the lineup.
I don’t know how Luke Hughes would perform in an everyday role. Then again, I don’t know how Alexi Casilla will perform in an everyday role and we’ve seen that four or five times already. The best-case scenario would have him hitting 18-20 home runs in 500 plate appearances. If it doesn’t go so well, Brian Dozier is waiting in the wings and could be ready to come up by June and Hughes can return to a reserve role.
I think the odds of Hughes being the regular starting second baseman is probably very low. Then again, I have already been surprised several times this spring. Chris Parmelee hit his way onto the Opening Day roster. Maybe Luke Hughes can hit his way into a starting job.
Bonus Luke Hughes Trivia: Luke Hughes signed with the Twins in July of 2002. Only three players on the Twins 40-man roster have been in the Twins organization longer than Hughes. Who are they?