Wednesday, 4 April 2012
Australian slugger Luke Hughes entered MLB spring training this year with a bung shoulder and the fear that a dud camp would see him get the axe - but he finished it with a spot on Minnesota's opening day roster.
This time last year, Hughes was dealing with the news that he'd been the last player cut from the roster, forcing him to start in the minor leagues before he worked his way back to hit seven home runs in 96 games for the Twins.
The 27-year-old dominated spring training, clocking up team-highs in RBI (20) and home runs (six) with a .303 average to grab the attention of the clubhouse.
And what made it even more exceptional was that while he came into camp with the most to lose, he also cruelly was the most ill-prepared having suffered a shoulder injury late in the Australian Baseball League season while playing with Perth Heat.
"I was a little bit worried there for a while, coming into camp as the only guy who was hurt," Hughes told AAP.
"I knew when I was coming into camp that I was one bad camp away from being axed.
"It was basically performance-based. I knew what was at stake.
"So when the news actually came out that I'd made the roster, it was fantastic. It's a huge honour and something I've wanted to achieve for a while.
"After last year, coming so close and missing out when I was the last guy cut, this year it was something I wanted to prove to them."
Now the utility infielder, who played everywhere in the infield and even spent time at left outfield in the spring, plans to lock down one of the team's starting roles.
Alexi Casilla plays in Hughes' preferred spot as second baseman, a scenario Twins manager Ron Gardenhire admits the club will have to revisit if Hughes takes his hot spring form into the regular season.
"If he keeps swinging, we'll like him in more than a utility role," Gardenhire said.
"Somebody else will be utility and he'll be playing. We find places for people that are hitting like that."
Remarkably Hughes, who helped Perth win back-to-back ABL championships this year, is one of four Australians to have cracked opening day rosters in the MLB.
One of the game's elder statesmen, pitcher Grant Balfour, has earned his spot as the Oakland A's closer, Rich Thompson will take the mound for the Los Angeles Angels and starting pitcher Liam Hendricks will line up alongside Hughes for the Twins.
"It's huge. It's unbelievable," Hughes said.
"Liam definitely showed that he deserves to be out there."
Minnesota's season starts in Baltimore on Friday (AEST), with Hendricks pitching for the Twins in game three of the series on Monday.