Versatile Michael Cuddyer fills in at hot corner

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 2, 2010 - 6:29 AM

Although he's clearly more comfortable in right field, the Twins standout does what is best for the team.

Michael Cuddyer

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune file

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Michael Cuddyer started at third base for the Twins again Thursday night, because that enables the team to have its best hitting lineup.

But there is no doubt Cuddyer would prefer to play right field, where he has developed into one of baseball's best, with a throwing arm that keeps baserunners honest.

Cuddyer played 95 games at third in 2005 after Corey Koskie went to Milwaukee. In 2006, Cuddyer moved to right, where he had his best season (24 homers, 109 RBI).

Time after time, Cuddyer would talk about how comfortable he was knowing when he came to the ballpark that he would be the right fielder. Originally drafted as a shortstop, he played second base for 48 games for the Twins in 2004, so he was all over the infield early in his Twins career.

But when the Twins had an interleague stretch of road games, Cuddyer moved to third so Jason Kubel could be in right field and left fielder Delmon Young could play every day. Cuddyer has stayed there against American League teams so Jim Thome can be the designated hitter.

Cuddyer, who took over at first base last year in the final month of the season because Justin Morneau was injured, is willing to do whatever he can for the team. So when manager Ron Gardenhire told him of his new role before the road trip, he wasn't surprised.

"He said that if I didn't go play third then either Delmon, Kubel or I ... at least one of us was going to have to have every game off in the National League," Cuddyer said. "So he asked me if I'd be opposed to going to third base.

"Obviously I just want to win, I don't care where I play, I just want to win. So I was like, 'I'm fine with that,' and now Jim's swinging the bat well, and this allows him to get into the DH spot."

Getting comfortable

Cuddyer committed 15 errors at third base in 2005 for a .942 fielding percentage, part of the reason for his move to right field.

"Every day at third I get a little more comfortable," he said. "I think it's slowly but surely starting to come back to me. But again, I'm the one that can move, so I'm willing to do that.

"Obviously I haven't played over there in five years, so it's a little bit of a different position, but it's getting there."

Cuddyer, 31 and in his 10th major league season, started Thursday's game hitting .263 with seven home runs and 35 RBI.

"I feel fine, we're winning -- I don't really measure my individual seasons any more," he said. "I just kind of look at how the team is doing, and if we're winning and I'm helping us win, then I'm happy."

Rest assured, Cuddyer would rather be in right field. But being able to play capably at second base or third base, and being able to hit anywhere in the batting order, he is a very valuable player for the Twins.

Mbakwe shopping

Trevor Mbakwe was not permitted to play for the Gophers men's basketball team last season because he was facing felony charges in Miami, where he played junior college basketball. In a recent interview with Nadine Babu of gopherhole.com, Mbakwe said he was checking out other schools as he tries to decide whether to transfer.

Mbakwe admitted for the first time that he visited Memphis, and thinks highly of Tigers coach Josh Pastner, who recruited Mbakwe when Pastner was an assistant at Arizona.

If Mbakwe transferred, he would have to petition the NCAA for a waiver so he could play during the 2010-11 season. He has also heard from Georgia Tech, Arizona, California, St. Louis and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, among other teams.

Mbakwe's trial is set for July 26. He said he wouldn't consider pleading to a lesser charge.

He made it clear he didn't like not being able to play last season, a decision made by Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi. Mbakwe said about coach Tubby Smith, however, "He wants me to play. He has been great, absolutely wonderful."

The success of the Gophers next season might depend on Mbakwe being in the lineup. He is playing in the Howard Pulley League this summer and is, without at doubt, the best player in that league.

Jottings

Darko Milicic agreed to a four-year, $20 million contract with the Timberwolves on Thursday. The center seemed likely to return to play in Europe when he joined the Wolves late last season, but he liked it here and the team persuaded him to return. Milicic was the second overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft by Detroit, right behind LeBron James and ahead of Carmelo Anthony. Wolves coach Kurt Rambis was responsible for scouting Detroit when he was an assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers, and liked Milicic. Rambis suggested Wolves President David Kahn get Milicic last season from the Knicks. "We see a lot of potential in him," Rambis said. "He can do a lot of things for us at both ends of the floor. The very interesting thing is he's still very young. He's only 25 after being in the league for seven years, so we see a tremendous upside."

Former Gophers catcher Kyle Knudson, who was drafted in the ninth round by the Twins, is with rookie league Elizabethton (Tenn.), and is hitting .310 through seven games. Gophers pitcher Seth Rosin was taken in the fourth round by the Giants and is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three appearances for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. And Michael Kvasnicka, a first-round pick by the Astros, is struggling with the Class A Tri-City Valleycats in Albany, N.Y., where he is 4-for-37.

Seven players from the 2009 Gophers football team will be in NFL camps this month, including defensive tackle Garrett Brown (Kansas City); linebackers Lee Campbell (Detroit), Simoni Lawrence (Philadelphia), and Nate Triplett (Vikings); cornerbacks Traye Simmons (San Diego) and Marcus Sherels (Vikings); and receiver Eric Decker (Broncos). ... Decker is now a teammate of former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, the Florida quarterback who was a controversial first-round pick by Denver. "Tim is a great guy," Decker said after the Broncos' organized workouts. "He is one of the hardest-working guys I have ever met. It's crazy how many hours he puts in, how much energy the guy actually has. He's staying two, three hours after we get out of there and we've got about 12-hour days at this time right now. He's just excited about what he's doing and getting better at his craft, and he's definitely making a progression."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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