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Meet: Justin Huber

It's always fun watching new guys.

If you check out the page with the Twins' active roster page, you'll find the latest addition:  one Justin Huber, infielder, number 19.  Welcome back to the bigs, Mr. Huber.

Huber was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Mets back in 2000, as a catcher.  He made his professional debut the following summer, playing 47 of his 52 games for Kingsport, New York's rookie league squad.  Just 18, he batted an impressive .314/.415/.528 with 17 walks against 42 strikeouts.

The next summer, 2002, the Mets started him in A-ball.  He complimented good power for a guy his age (and at his position) with good strike zone judgement and more than a adequate penchant for taking a walk, and he followed up a brilliant rookie year with a .291/.408/.470 campaign.  After 95 games there he was promoted to high-A ball, where his numbers weren't as impressive but still showed a lot of promise for a 19-year old kid:  .270/.370/.400 in 28 games.  The power had disappeared, but it was only an outage, not a cut.

Starting at high-A St. Lucie in '03 he picked up where he left off, and was promoted to double-A halfway through the season after posting an .884 OPS.  A good but unimpressive stint there meant he would start a second cosecutive season in St. Lucie in '04, but that lasted all of 13 games.  By July of 2004 the 21-year old Huber (22 by the time he got there) was getting his first taste of triple-A.  That stint lastest three games, as he was traded to the Royals at the deadline (for Jose Bautista of all people).  Unfortunately for Huber (and the Royals), torn cartilage in his knee ended his summer.  He went under the knife, and as a result his career as a catcher came to an end.

If there were any adverse effects the following year, Huber didn't show them.  Starting in double-A for the Royals, the 22-year old now-first baseman raked.  The patience was there, as were his raw hitting skills, but the best news was that he displayed the power that he'd shown throughout his first few years in the minors.  It was exactly how you'd want a guy like Huber to perform following a surgery.  Over 88 games he belted a .343/.432/.570 line in 335 at-bats, notching 16 homers, 22 doubles and 51 walks.  It couldn't get much better than that, and he was promoted to Kansas City's triple-A squad (.274/.374/.531) before getting called up to the majors for the first time.

In his age-22 season, Justin was 23 by the time he saw his first plate appearance for the Royals, but he was exactly on-track for where a hitter of his abilities should have been.  Sadly, back in 2005 professional softball player Matt Stairs was getting most of the time at first base for the Royals.  Stairs wasn't exactly an offensive threat, but with Mike Sweeney in the midst of his last productive year of his career to date, Stairs actually led the team's qualifying hitters with a .373 OBP.  I can understand how the Royals wanted him in the lineup, but he was 37.  For whatever reason, Huber was only awarded 85 plate appearances that year, and he struggled.

Over the next two seasons, Huber's OPS at triple-A would be solid (.838 in '06, .853 in '07), but he only saw 21 plate appearances with the Royals in that span.  Doug Mientkiewicz and newly-acquired slugging pospect Ryan Shealy saw most of the time at first base in the former, while Shealy and Ross Gload bogarted the time in the latter.  So as for the reason why Huber never had a chance, I have no answer.

In March of 2008 the Padres purchased the contract of Huber, where he managed to hit his first major league career home run off of Randy Johnson.  He was granted free agency following the season, and joined the Twins.

It's been another typical season for Huber at triple-A, hitting a "pedestrian" .273/.354/.483 with 22 homers, 22 doubles and 49 walks in 439 at-bats.  His wOBA?  An impressive .361.  In his age-26 season, Huber is about to see time with his fourth franchise and should get another opportunity to get his long overdue major league career off the ground.

Since 2006 Huber has been shifted between first base and the outfield defensively, while maintaining very good power numbers.  His isolated power has consistently scored out higher than .200 in the minor leagues with few aberrations, including this summer with Rochester (.209).

There's a lot of raw hitting talent about to be sitting on Minnesota's bench tonight, and although he hasn't really shown anything at the major league level so far, he hasn't really been given a decent chance.  Huber could be seen as just "another one of those guys", in the mold of a Garrett Jones or Randy Ruiz, and I wouldn't blame you for thinking that.  But his potential for plate discipline and ability to consistently adapt to better competition as he came up through the minors gives me hope for something better.

Welcome to the Twins, Mr. Huber.