Jason Kubel Prospect Retro

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Jason Kubel Prospect Retro

 

Jason Kubel was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 12th round in 2000, out of high school in Palmdale, California. His bat was well-respected and he could have gone as high as the fourth round, but he had a Long BeachState scholarship and his signability was unclear when drafted. He performed well in rookie ball, hitting .282/.367/.372 in 23 games, not showing much power but demonstrating good plate discipline. I didn’t write much about short-season players back then, but a similar guy now would likely get a “Grade C with higher potential” rating, pending more data.

 

Kubel returned to the Gulf Coast Rookie League in 2001 and took a step forward, hitting .331/.422/.500 in 37 games, showing more pop along with very good plate discipline: 19 walks against 14 strikeouts in 124 at-bats. Of course, he was repeating the league at age 19. “Grade C with higher potential” would remain the rating at this point.

 

The Twins moved Kubel up to the full-season Midwest League in 2002 and he responded with an excellent season, hitting .321/.380/.521 for Quad Cities, with 41 walks and just 48 strikeouts in 424 at-bats, along with a +30 percent OPS. I gave him a Grade B in the 2003 book, noting that a lack of speed and questionable defense (aside from a good arm) were issues, but that the bat looked excellent. I saw him play that year and was extremely impressed; he had a very quick bat, and a very advanced approach, making contact on just about everything but not swinging at bad pitches very often.

 

Kubel moved up to Fort Myers in 2003, hitting .298/.361/.400. Note the power dropoff, though he kept his OPS positive at +12 percent. His strike zone judgment remained strong, and I kept his rating at Grade B in the 2004 book, writing “this guy can hit.”

 

2005 was a mixed blessing. He put up monstrous numbers in Double-A (.377/.453/.66) and Triple-A (.343/.398/.560). He hit .300/.358/.433 in 23 games with the Twins. His combination of power, high batting average, and excellent strike zone judgment was special. He even stole 16 bases and looked better on defense. I was prepared to give him a straight Grade A rating. . .but he blew out his knee in the Arizona Fall League. I lowered him to Grade A-, but in retrospect I might have been better to go down to B+ given the severity of the injury.

 

He missed all of 2005 rehabbing the knee, and when he came back in 2006 things weren’t quite the same. He struggled in ’06 (.241/.279/.386 in 73 games), but was more effective in ’07 (.273/.335/.450) and ’08 (.272/.335/.471). The missing year and the injury itself clearly harmed his development. He’s lost what speed he had, and his bat just doesn’t seem quite as quick as it did back in 2004. He’s also had problems hitting lefties, (.833 OPS vs. righthanders, just .704 vs lefties in 2008) which have held back his numbers.

 

Kubel turns 27 in May, and seems like a good candidate for a classic “age 27” peak season, at least if he can solve the lefty problem. The new two-year (plus option) contract he signed last month has drawn some controversy, but I can understand it. If he does break out, the Twins get his services for $2.75 million in ’09 and $4.1 million in ’10, which are reasonable figures at today’s prices. If the breakout doesn’t occur, or if he gets worse, they can decline the $5.1 million option in 2011. This isn’t a deal that will bust the budget, and there is a reasonable chance it could be quite cost effective.

 

As a prospect, Kubel performed well at every level and demonstrated a notably low strikeout rate for a young hitter with power. Would he be a genuine star if not for the knee injury? Perhaps. . .perhaps not. It’s important to remember that he is still quite young, and if he can boost his production against lefties, he can be far more than just a good platoon bat.


Similar Players through age 26:

Jeff Hammonds

Kirk Gibson

Paul O’Neill

Felipe Alou

Mike Young the Outfielder

Todd Benzinger

Brad Wilkerson

Roy Sievers

Jeremy Giambi

Michael Tucker

Interesting mix of early fadeouts with long-term successes there. I don't like the Hammonds, Alou, and Sievers comps since they were right-handed hitters. Gibson was a lot more athletic than Kubel when he was younger. I can see O'Neill, Wilkerson, Giambi, and Tucker as possible outcomes along the spectrum of good and bad. 

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