A new favorite past time in Twins Territory is tracking all the former players for the Minnesota ball club who have gone on to greater success elsewhere. The last few years have been agonizing as players who made up the core of the team for so long have moved to greener fields - and bigger contracts.
But let's be honest. Did anyone really imagine that Latroy Hawkins, at age 41, would still be pitching? Or that Torii Hunter and A.J. Pierzynski would be effective, everyday players into their late 30s? Not many thought Joe Nathan would come back from Tommy John surgery to remain one of the game's elite closers. And let's not even go there with David Ortiz. When he was here, Big Papi was a big bust.
The list goes on and on, but one of the ones that got away has returned to the Twins and it must be said: It's good to have Jason Kubel back.
While it's too early to put much stock into his .385 batting average, a closer look at his stats in 11 games demonstrates that signing Kubel to a minor league contract to start the season was a smart move. He has 15 hits in 39 at bats, and though he only has one home run, he has four doubles and a triple. Kubel has never been afraid to swing, and while it's true that he has struck out 11 times, his on-base percentage is .442, meaning he's drawn some walks as well.
Considering his 2013 season, this appears to be quite a turnaround. A year ago he batted .216 in 97 games with Arizona and Cleveland, with only five homers and 32 RBI. Cleveland declined to re-sign him and it appeared as though at the age of 32, Kubel was done.
In spring training, he looked no better. The television broadcasts from Fort Meyers showed a stiff and slow Kubel, a guy who ran so gingerly that you could almost hear the bones creaking through the TV. And his stroke was off - even those nostalgic for the recent wave of former Twins had a hard time believing that the team was going to give this guy a chance.
But the rust sloughed off, and suddenly Kubel looked healthy when he hit 30 home runs for the Diamondbacks. And it's a good thing they have him, as injuries to Josh Willingham (himself another creak-case) and Oswaldo Arcia have left the team depleted in the outfield corners. That Kubel has played in 11 of the team's 12 games so far already makes him a steal.
Stats aren't the only proof Kubel still has some game in him. He made a tough catch against the short left-field fence vs. Kansas City at Target Field Saturday, a foul ball that he had to run quite a ways to get. Playing in the National League for the last two seasons without the option of being the designated hitter may have actually improved his range. And Friday against Kansas City he hit that triple, a sign that his wheels are okay. His swing looks as good as it ever did, maybe better.
And how about that Kansas City series? The Twins dropped their first three homes games against Oakland, mostly due to pitchers getting behind early. But on Friday against the Royals, the Twins exploded for 10 runs. For the series, the Twins outscored K.C. 21-5 to take the three-game sweep. The team is back at .500 with a 6-6 record.
They got quality starts from pitchers Kyle Gibson, Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Correia, but here's the rub: This team can score. Minnesota's 67 runs is good for third in the majors, and first among teams with only 12 games played. Plenty of players have shown some pop, most notably Chris Colabello, who leads the American League with 14 RBI; Josmil Pinto, who hit two homers against Kansas City; and Brian Dozier, who despite hitting .191, has four homers in this young season.
Then there's the guy who is second in the American League in batting average, an old relic by the name of Jason Kubel. Maybe the Twins' run production will fall off, and maybe Kubel will cool off. But so far, it's been a sweet homecoming.