Rare Sighting: A Semi-Positive Justin Huber Story, Not Penned by a Blogger

Everyone's favorite Aussie got some play yesterday on the official team site:

Huber, who led the Texas League with a .343 average in 2005, batted .278 last year for Omaha and pounded 18 home runs with 68 RBIs in 77 games, a good production pace.

Just where he might fit with the 2008 Royals isn't certain. But he's rounded himself into sound shape with an accelerated conditioning program at a prominent facility in Melbourne. That came after his November trip to Taipei where he batted .381 for Australia in the World Cup.

Well, sorta positive I guess.

Especially in light of the Olivo suspension, it might not be a bad idea to see if Huber can still functionally catch. Sure, he's versatile now -- at the positions that everyone can play -- but if he can hack it as a possible emergency catcher for a few weeks, he might make the team out of Spring Training.

Or the Royals will just promote Tupman for a few weeks, which is about twenty times more likely. Although there was a brief movement towards teams being a little more cavalier with how they use the backup catcher slot, I can't see a proudly old-school regime like the Royals going the Matt LeCroy route.

----

You know what, this topic is so 2006, but I don't care.

While it seems like Huber is overripe as a prospect, and usually associated with Craig Brazell types, he's still only 25 years old. Super hotshot wunderkind Alex Gordon turned 24 last week. Joey Gathright is 26, as is Mark Teahen. Ryan Shealy is 28.

PECOTA pegs him as a .253/.323/.420 hitter this season, which certainly isn't great. Nevertheless, what that projection shows is that even if his batting average totally bottoms out, there's still residual patience and decent power there. Honestly, I think Huber is better than that line. His big league numbers we can basically discard right off the bat given how small and randomly distributed they've been, leaving us with a career .289/.369/.495 line over seven minor league seasons. With reasonable playing time I don't think Huber is a .250 hitter in the big leagues. (I'm not saying he'll hit .290 either, for the record.) Adding an extra single or two a week to his PECOTA line, and he's closer to .270/.340/.440. This is both fairly trivial and not a major accomplishment, but I think Huber could post a higher OBP next season than Ross Gload. And lets not even talk about Shealy.

As the movie said, "feel his pain".

Look, I know, I know. I am not a scout. I'm sure everyone in baseball knows there's a hole in his swing or that he can't hit a backdoor slider or whatever. I know he's not a prospect and that no one, from Goldstein to Baseball America cares one whit about him. I know he's bad with the glove. All that being said, I just don't see a player who quite deserves the Brazell treatment either.

We're now on year three of dreaming about the magical day when Mark Teahen "breaks out". We're on year two of hoping that Shealy puts it all together. We're on year three of seeing what we have in Shane Costa. Those players are older than Huber.

We push optimistic narratives from some players -- "John Buck was messed up last season by Buddy Bell" -- and pessimistic ones for others. But really, we aren't that smart, and neither are the professionals. The anti-stats counter-revolution has dedicated itself to "the human element" without considering how problematic that choice is. Human beings aren't half as good at evaluating situations as they think they are: we invent patterns that aren't causal, our senses are poor and not well-fitted to memory and we're driven by biases and easily duped. Even with people we like, or even love, the exact same event splits off into multiple versions seconds after it occurs. (For those with spouses, or approximations, think about how the two of you can remember the same thing in two completely different ways.) Baseball is no different. I need to be careful here, but its pretty easy to see biases throughout the game, especially in player projection. I'm not talking about media coverage and beloved white grittiness, either, but more along the lines of positional development curves and player-types. For example, ever notice a trend among those, "great stuff, just need to iron out their control/approach" pitchers that bounce from team to team and get about five gazillion chances?

Anyway, the industry has soured on Huber, and his time with the Royals is just about done. We'll move on. I don't know if it was because he came from a different culture and subtly threw people off unintentionally or didn't properly demonstrate appropriate jock-behavior, or if he's a legitimately bad guy or if he's just, ultimately, not good enough. I do know that he never got a proper shot with this team, and I'd be stunned if that didn't effect his semi-downturn last year. Still, we'll never really know how he might have done, because he never got a chance.

For most of us, that last bit sounds familiar. We had a good tryout, but didn't make the team. We thought we did a good job on our college application, but didn't get into our top choice. We studied for the LSAT, but then choked on exam day. We thought we nailed the interview, but they hired someone else. We joined the Army to be in Special Forces, but ended up inside a tank. We wanted to be a screenwriter in Hollywood, but after six months had to move back home and find a "real job". Maybe we just weren't good enough or maybe we just needed someone to believe in us who, finally, didn't. Neither option is really comforting.

So in that small way, as a loser slogging away in the Midwest, you can understand why I'll always find someone like Justin Huber easier to root for than one of the golden ones.

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