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PLAYER TO WATCH
One of the great mysteries in baseball is just what to make of Orlando Hudson. He plays Gold Glove defense at second base. He has made himself into a good hitter with an above-average .363 OBP over the last four years. And it's well known that he plays the game with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Yet for the second straight off-season, Hudson drew little interest in the free-agent market. Last year the reason seemed to be a balky wrist above his glove hand, but this winter the talk was more about his strange fade in the second half of 2009. After a great start with the Dodgers (through June 25, he was hitting .312 and slugging .452), Hudson collapsed so completely down the stretch (hitting .251 and slugging .378 the rest of the way) that manager Joe Torre benched him for the playoffs.
The Twins, ever alert to a bargain, signed Hudson in February to a one-year, $5 million deal. The first thing manager Ron Gardenhire noticed was how enthusiastically Hudson took to his new team. He relished Minnesota's intense defensive drills and wasn't shy about letting his personality come out. "He talks ... a lot," centerfielder Denard Span says. "Any conversation with him involves a lot of listening."
Hudson has long looked for a club that matches his talents and personality, and this Twins team could be the one. It stresses defense and needs a solid bat in the two slot, where he is a natural fit. If all goes as planned, Hudson should be chattering to his teammates well into October.
Walks per nine innings by Twins pitchers last year, the lowest rate in the AL. Their control may have been a little too good. Minnesota also gave up the second-most home runs in the league (185), which helps explain its 11th-ranked ERA of 4.50.
Twins G.M. Bill Smith had a strong off-season, making a number of low-cost, high-value pickups. Now it's up to Ron Gardenhire to make them count by putting the right guys on the field. He can start by ensuring that Jim Thome, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal, gets the lion's share of at bats at DH, with his playing time coming at the expense of leftfielder Delmon Young. At 24, Young, the top overall draft pick in 2003, has regressed; his speed and plate discipline are going backward, and his defense remains poor. Thome, even at 39, has retained his great eye and power. He's a much better offensive player than Young, and Minnesota loses little starting Jason Kubel in left when Thome plays. Without Joe Nathan the Twins are going to have to lean on their offense to win; playing Thome over Young will be worth valuable runs.