In the 12th round of the 2000 MLB draft, the Minnesota Twins selected Jason Kubel out of Highland High School, CA. After tearing his way through the Twins minor league system and earning a berth at the 2004 Futures Game, Kubel got a September ‘04 call-up to The Show and acquitted himself nicely (.300 BA in 67 PA). It looked for all the world like he was on the fast track to MLB success.
Unfortunately, while playing in the Arizona Fall League later that same year, catastrophe struck. In the OF, Jason ran into a teammate—he went one way but his knee stuck in the grass, tearing three ligaments and requiring major reconstructive surgery. In many cases, such a procedure would be career-ending for a professional athlete.
But after missing the entire ‘05 campaign, Kubel was back on the field—and with the big club—by ‘06. This precipitated a five-year stretch (2007-2011) in which an average Jason Kubel season looked something like this: 20 HR, 80 RBI, .273 BA, .806 OPS, 116 OPS+. In the Metrodome’s sendoff—2009—alone he produced a career year with 28 home runs, 103 RBI, and a .907 OPS (137 OPS+).
Besides the steady offensive production from the left-handed batter’s box, Kubel also had a knack for clutch or important situations.
Some highlights you might remember...
- Jump-starting the magical ‘06 run with a walk-off grand slam in extra innings against the Boston Red Sox.
- Capping a cycle with a grand slam in a wild comeback victory early in ‘09.
- Hitting the first Target Field home run in the bottom of an inning.
- Grand-slamming (seemed to be a theme with Kubes!) the Twins to a victory in New York—off Mariano Rivera, no less.
If any of that sounds familiar, it’s likely because current lefty slugger Alex Kirilloff is on a remarkably similar career trajectory.
Though drafted much higher—15th overall in 2016—than Kubel, AK had Tommy John surgery within his first calendar year in the Twins organization. He rehabbed, recovered, and proceeded to mash the minors—until a wrist injury cut short his 2019.
After posting solid numbers early in ‘21, Kirilloff was again shut down for a season due to the troublesome wrist—a malady that would linger into 2022 when (yet again) he was largely absent for a procedure to literally shorten the ulnar bone in his right wrist. For a time, it seemed—much like Kubel’s knee before him—that a strong prospect might be cut down by injury. Yet, again like Kubel, Kirilloff bounced back and has thus far been perhaps the team’s best offensive player (OPS over .900, OPS+ over 150, solid K/BB percentage, etc.) in 2023.
Truth be told, Kirilloff probably has an even higher offensive ceiling than Kubel. So if he can continue to stay on the field and in the batting order, there are almost certain to be similar dramatics to those Kubel provided in the late aughts and early tens. If AK starts using Brass Monkey as his walk-up tune, things will really start getting suspicious.