Twins call up Luke Hughes to replace Nick Punto, who heads to the disabled list.
As an undrafted free agent out of Australia in 2002, Hughes was a 17-year old high schooler who would make his minor league debut in the spring of 2003. From '03 to '04 he shifted between all three positions on the left side of the infield, hitting more like a middle infielder than anything else, collecting a .295/.355/.418 line in two seasons in rookie leagues.
The next two years were difficult for Hughes, as the Twins promoted him in spite of struggles at the plate. He played second base for the whole of 2005, between both Beloit and Fort Myers, but was shifted to third base for 2006 as the Twins started to search for his best defensive position. Hughes stayed at high-A Fort Myers in '06, playing third base but continuing to hit like a middle infielder. He hit .225/.274/.302 in 118 games with the Miracle, so it came as somewhat of a surprise when, in 2007, the Twins started him in double-A New Britain.
By '07 Hughes was still just 22, but the Twins seemed to be moving him faster than his numbers suggested they should. With a dearth of third basemen (and infielders in general) in the system, recent draftees and younger players filled the lower echelons of the system and guys like Hughes were asked to fill mid-level roster spots whether they appeared to be ready or not.
In the face of low expectations, Hughes broke out with his best season to date. He spent the entire season with the Rock Cats, and across 92 games hit .283/.356/.438. It wasn't uber-impressive, but he posted minor league highs in walk rates (9.4%), wOBA (.342), BABIP (.336) as well as homers (9) and doubles (18). While the Twins were still searching for a position in the field (Hughes played second base and outfield in '07), it was the stepping stone towards the moderate expectations that have blossomed over the last couple of years.
Hughes began 2008 with the Rock Cats and raked, belting 15 homers and 15 doubles while driving in 40 runs in 70 games. He hit an impressive .319/.385/.551, playing third with some second, and was promoted to Rochester. He arrived with the Red Wings touted as a possible third baseman of the future, in spite of his checkered defensive history, because of how he'd hit over the last season and a half. At 23 he seemed to be putting everything together, and was suddenly just one step away from the Major Leagues. Hughes appeard in 29 games for the Red Wings, and certainly didn't do too badly for his first stint. His .283/.325/.453 line filled Twins Territory with optimism.
Part of that optimism was due in part to Hughes' recent successes at the dish, but the Twins had also whiffed on 2003 first-round pick Matt Moses, who was at one point held the franchise's title of Third Baesman of the Future (or at least held the franchises's hope that he'd attain that title). Also, the Twins were in the situation they still find themselves in: no long-term answer at third base. As Hughes put together back-to-back quality seasons, the Twins not only were without a long-term answer, they were struggling to find a short-term one. Mike Lamb was signed for the '08 season and didn't last, and he followed on the heels of guys like Terry Tiffee, Brian Buscher and Tony Batista. Hughes' bat was giving Twins fans the hope that the hole left by Corey Koskie wouldn't last forever.
Hughes did fine in 2009, but in spite of an .825 OPS with the Red Wings managed to set expectations back to a more realistic level. He split time between double and triple-A, and while his performance in Rochester was certainly fine (.259/.344/.481 in 157 plate appearances), the competition of Danny Valencia (and Valencia's superior offense) tempered the previous year's optimism. Additionally, the Twins continued to shift him around the diamond. Hughes spent time at a number of positions in 2009, particularly once Valencia was called up to Rochester.
Now, on April 24, 2010, Hughes will get his first chance to play in a Twins uniform. He's 25 and his path to the Majors has been an interesting one to track. In his first 12 games with the Red Wings this season, he's hit .267/.327/.444 with eight doubles. He gets the call over the entire Rochester outfield (Dustin Martin 1.142 OPS, Jason Repko .959 OPS, Jacque Jones .938 OPS), as well as Valencia, who's been struggling (.163/.245/.209).
It will be interesting to see how the Twins play Hughes, since Punto's DL trip is retroactive to April 16. This means Hughes' first stint in the bigs will last about one week. While Hughes doesn't necessarily play any position well, he does have experience at a number of them.
No matter what happens, this won't be the last time we see Hughes with the Twins. Good luck to him. It'd be good to see him play well and give the front office something to think about.