Monday, March 07, 2005

Bartlett en fuego; Much Love for Cuddy Bear

Playing the Devil Rays in Fort Myers today, Gardy gave prospect Jason Bartlett another start at SS, and he came through with 2 hits, including a double, in 3 at-bats and scored a run. Meanwhile, Juan Castro was a late sub for Rivas at 2nd base; he had a hit in his only at-bat, but both he and Rivas also made an error. I know it's just the first week of spring training, but if Bartlett keeps going like this, he might force an awkward decision at the end of camp. One may wonder whether the club management wishes it had just trusted the kid to take over Guzy's spot in the first place, instead of tying up money in extra scrub parts to add "depth" to the middle infield. I don't know about you, but I am rooting for Bartlett and Terry Tiffee (who had a pinch-hit single today) to have a huge month and at least make Gardy and TR squirm as they tapdance around the question of why they're going back to Rochester to start the season.

On a related note, this weekend La Velle E. Neal III wrote a feature in the Strib about Michael Cuddyer and Eric Munson, "Who Wants Third?" in which he suggested that the two are similar types on the bubble of a big league career. The comparison is a tortured stretch in numerous ways, but this one line jumped out and bit me: "Both are former first-round picks who have blown chances to play every day in the majors." Now, I don't know a lot about Munson's history with the Tigers organization, but it looks like the club gave him a fair opportunity to play the last couple years. In 2003-4, he played 185 games at 3rd base, making 175 starts at the position for Detroit. He also played 9 games as a DH. So he wasn't getting moved all around the field or trying to break in as a bench player. He had some significant chances to be a starting 3rd baseman through age 26, until the Tigers decided he wasn't up to the job and let him go. I'd like to know, when has Cuddyer ever been given that kind of opportunity by the Twins to this point?

In 2002, at age 23, he was brought up and played in 41 games: making 25 appearances in RF, 16 at 3B/1B, and 3 at DH. He made 29 starts between RF and the corner infield spots. He played well enough in September (batting .321/.367/.519) to get penciled in as the primary RF to open the next season. However, he got off to a cold start in April 2003, lost his job to the Kielty/Mohr platoon, and was the odd man out when someone had to be demoted to AAA after the first week of May. As Neal notes in his story, hamstring problems kept Cuddyer from returning to the big club before September--and even then he hardly played again until the last week of the season, after the team had clinched the division, although he did hit .276/.344/.517 when he did play that month. So how much of an opportunity did Cuddyer really get that year? About three weeks. He was the regular RF through April 21, and started at the position again just a couple more times before getting bumped from the roster.

Then last year, he came into the season as the "Super Utility Guy." He never had a real position, except to fill in at 3B or 2B as needed. He struggled early with that role, but came on strong to hit .287/.378/.487 after the break and played a pretty good 2nd base for someone who was learning on the job, and I thought he was getting better by the day. He did so well that he got some regular action at 2B in the postseason, and the GM and manager publicly suggested that he could be the starting 2B in 2005. That is, until they changed their minds again. Now the Strib is printing spring features on him suggesting that he's another guy on the bubble, approaching his last chance at a real major league career.

What is up with that? Why does Cuddyer stand out for many people as a nearly failed prospect, while other guys in the organization have done less with much, much more opportunity? I realize that it seems like Cuddyer has been around forever, but he has fewer plate appearances in his whole major league career than Eric Munson or Luis Rivas have had in the last two seasons. The last two years, he's had 111 starts in the field at 5 different positions. Now he's supposedly working his last chance in 2005, because he had three poor weeks to start the 2003 season. Is this a way to treat a top prospect?

I believe in Michael Cuddyer. He's an athletic young player who has done whatever the club has asked, without publicly complaining, and he has done well at times when given some leeway to settle into a groove. He's still only turning 26 late this month. Let's hope that his manager finally commits to writing his name into the lineup everyday and leaving him to show what he can do. I think #5 is going to have a big year. It's on, Cuddy Bear. Hit 'em up.


At 3/07/2005 5:55 PM, Anonymous Dianna said...

Keep in mind that Munson isn't on the 40-man roster. I honestly believe that Ryan brings these guys in to provide some competition in spring training and I'm sure he's not the only GM who does that.

I'm hoping that they're not serious about Castro, who is on the 40-man roster, because he's not impressed me at all. Bartlett is looking better and better all of the time.

I think on the whole Cuddy's a lock to make third, and might end up playing second if Tiffee has a strong training camp and Castro and Rivas continue on the way they've been going.

At 3/07/2005 8:42 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

I agree with your thinking, although I expect to see Munson added to the roster as a LHB off the bench and backup to the corner infielders.

Thanks for commenting. It gave me a chance to find your Miracle site, which I've added to my Links list. I encourage everybody to go check it out.

At 3/07/2005 9:07 PM, Anonymous Goober said...

As always, interesting and enjoyable. Well done, Frightwig!

At 3/07/2005 11:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why did they give Juan Castro $2,000,000?

At 3/08/2005 3:53 AM, Anonymous talldrinkowater said...

I sure hope Cuddy Bear gets his chance this year to shine. He has seriously been robbed of a decent chance to start with the Big Show!

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