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Continued: Twins' Kubel has healthy leg up on things

Kubel batted a league-high .343 with 16 homers and 71 RBI at Rochester. His .352 combined average that season was higher than Mauer's at any level above rookie ball.

"It was like watching Joe [Mauer]," said shortstop Jason Bartlett, who played with Kubel in Rochester that year. "You knew he was going to hit the ball hard each time. I remember when he got called up. We were in Ottawa, and he got called up before the season ended so he could be on the playoff roster. I remember sitting in the dugout, telling him, 'You're never coming back here.' "

Kubel's first major league homer came on Sept. 21 that season off Jon Garland in Chicago. The next game, Kubel wasn't in the lineup, and White Sox manager Ozzie Gullien sought him out before the game.

"Man, you're good," Guillen said. "Why aren't you playing more? You can come over here!"

Kubel hit .300 in 23 games and even made the playoff roster, going 1-for-7.

Knee troubles, now gone?

The downward turn began in October during Arizona Fall League play. Kubel ran in after a sinking fly. His teammate, Detroit second baseman Ryan Raburn, ran out. As Kubel planted his left knee, Raburn slid into it, tearing three ligaments.

He missed the entire 2005 season -- one in which he could have won the starting right field job. He came back last year still favoring the knee. The 5-11 slugger's weight increased from 198 pounds to 216 late in the season because he couldn't run. It all led to his worst season as a pro

Still just 24, Kubel has time to return to form as a top hitting prospect. While showing so far that his bat hasn't suffered, he's also showing that he's healthy.

Kubel rushed in on a sinking fly ball last week in Sarasota, trying for the tough catch. He went down. A huge chunk of grass flew up.

Bartlett immediately had a flashback to October 2004.

"I was there in the AFL," he said. "It was the same exact kind of ball."

What made things worse was, after Kubel got up and threw the ball into the infield, he fell back down.

"Everyone was like, 'Oh, great,' " Bartlett said.

"I was sitting back there thinking, 'Oh, oh,' " Twins GM Terry Ryan said. "Just like anybody would."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire rushed out to the field to check on Kubel, who looked at him and yelled, "I caught that ball!"

Kubel was fine, but the umpire had ruled that he trapped the ball.

"After he just about killed himself over there in Sarasota and made it through that, I guess we can say he can make it through just about anything," Gardenhire said. "I'm just letting him play and get some at-bats."

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