Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Who is Jason Kubel?

Kubel hits a go-ahead grand slam off Mariano Rivera
"I've got a fever and the only prescription is more Kubel!"  A parody of a Saturday Night Live skit, Nick Nelson of Nick's Twins Blog popularized this quote throughout the Twins blogosphere at the beginning of the 2008 season.  It represented the growing frustrations among Twins fans that Kubel was not receiving enough playing time, as his production in both the minor and major leagues indicated he was ready for a full-time job.

Of course, this may never have been an issue if not for the devastating knee injury that Kubel suffered in the fall of 2004.  After impressing at every stop in the minor leagues, Kubel found himself starting the 2003 season at Double-A.  He took his performance to another level, putting up video game numbers (.377 average, 1.119 OPS) before being promoted to Triple-A.  He cooled off a tad there, but still had an OPS close to 1.000.  After a decent cameo with Minnesota in September, the organization and fans alike were brimming with optimism and excitement regarding Kubel's future.  He was the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year and was ranked the #17 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.

And then, in the Arizona Fall League, Kubel collided with a teammate in the outfield and tore the ACL and PCL in his left knee.  He would miss the entire 2005 season and was even in jeopardy of not being ready at the beginning of the 2006 season.  He did recover in time, though, and in fact managed to make the big league roster to open the year.  Kubel struggled, however, and was sent back to Triple-A in mid-April.  Although he was back with the Twins in May, the entire season was a painful one as the potential Kubel showed before his knee injury appeared nonexistent.

After a significant improvement in 2007, Kubel showed modest gains in 2008.  While his offensive contributions were decent, Twins fans couldn't help but wonder what might have been if he had avoided the catastrophic knee injury.  In 2009, they realized just what that might be.  Building upon a strong second half from the previous year, Kubel set career highs in almost every statistical category.  He hit .300 with 28 home runs and 103 RBIs, including one fantastic game against the Angels in which he hit for the cycle, capping it off with a go-ahead grand slam with two outs in the eighth inning.

The 2010 campaign, by comparison, was quite disappointing.  He did hit 20 home runs for the third consecutive year and he did drive in 92 runs, but otherwise his numbers were significantly worse.  This season looked promising, as his average was back above .300, but Kubel hurt his foot at the end of May and, contrary to the proclamations coming from the Twins' medical staff, he went on the disabled list for the next two months.  In the short time since his return, he has essentially maintained the numbers he put up from April and May, which would lead to good season-long statistics, albeit lacking in raw totals because of the time he missed.

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