Twins Welcome Back Huber With Open Arms





MINNEAPOLIS—He grew up in Australia and played last season in Japan, but first baseman Justin Huber sure seems Minnesotan to the Twins.

"There's something about him that just fits with this organization," farm director Jim Rantz said. "He's a popular guy in our system."

That's quite a statement, considering the 10-year pro has 161 career big league at-bats—but just two with Minnesota. Yet the former catcher made believers of the Twins by leading Triple-A Rochester with 22 home runs in 2009, attention-getting production in an organization with few righthanded sluggers.

"We've been looking for righthanders with some power for a long time," Rantz said. "We'd like to balance our lefthanders a little bit more."

They thought Huber might help do that, but the Melbourne native chose to play for the Hiroshima Carp in 2010. Huber found it difficult to adjust to life in Japan, though, and he was benched midway through the season after batting .220. At season's end, he returned home to play in the Australian Baseball League, where he ran into Twins international scout Howie Norsetter.

"Howie let us know Justin would like to come back. He said he looked like he still has good bat speed," Rantz said. So in mid-November, almost one year to the day after leaving the organization, Huber signed again with the Twins, accepting a minor league deal with an invitation to big league spring training.

As an Aussie, he'll have plenty of company. Minnesota leads the majors with 11 Australians under contract.

Huber is 29, so he's far from a prospect, and he has batted just .224/.276/.304 in parts of five seasons with the Royals, Padres and Twins. But his experience, and his promise at Rochester two seasons ago, persuaded the Twins to take another look.

"He's a terrific teammate and a good leader in the clubhouse," Rantz said. "He'll get a look as a backup to (Justin) Morneau, but Rochester was happy to hear we signed him. Everyone liked him."

TWIN KILLINGS

• The Twins signed lefthander Chuck James and invited him to big league camp, where he'll add lefty bullpen depth behind Jose Mijares. James missed all of 2009 and appeared in 26 games in the Nationals system a year ago.

• After batting just 10-for-51 (.196) in 15 Venezuelan League games with Aragua, third baseman Luke Hughes returned to his roots in the Australian Baseball League and batted .315/.433/.537 in 54 at-bats for Perth.