Overlooked Kubel doesn't expect spotlight

Overlooked Kubel doesn't expect spotlight

JUPITER, Fla. -- Considering the numbers he put up last season and the lack of attention he receives, there's no question Jason Kubel is yet another overlooked member of the Twins' lineup. Still, the reserved 27-year-old doesn't mind it one bit.

"When we have guys like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau playing here, it's tough to get all that recognition," Kubel said. "It's going to the right guys."

But what about when being in the background starts getting in the way of your livelihood?

Kubel had a career season last year, batting .300 with 28 homers and 103 RBIs while maintaining an incredible level of consistency (his batting average didn't dip lower than .282 in any month during the 2009 season).

Though he has a $5.25 million option for the 2011 season on his contract -- with a $350,000 buyout -- all the focus from Minnesota's front office has understandably been on trying to take care of Mauer's upcoming free-agent year.

If the option is not taken care of, Kubel will become a free agent for the first time. The only problem is Kubel is pretty much slated to bat sixth this season -- with Michael Cuddyer hitting in the fifth spot, because manager Ron Gardenhire wants to avoid having a trio of lefties in the middle of the lineup -- and he will once again serve as the designated hitter.

So, the lack of RBI opportunities in that spot of the order and the lack of experience on the field due to his current role could limit his value on the open market.

Speaking before Monday's 5-4 loss against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium -- one that saw him hit a three-run homer off Chris Volstad on a first-pitch fastball, his second of the spring -- Kubel said he isn't concerned about his pending option, and he believes things could work themselves out in the No. 6 spot.

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But Kubel does wish he could shake that DH label somehow.

"That's something that I want to get away from," said Kubel, also a corner outfielder. "At least for now, until I get older.

"I'm getting older, but still too young to be labeled as a DH. I didn't play as much outfield as I would've liked [last season], but I think I'm going to play more this year [with Carlos Gomez gone]."

A lack of playing time in the outfield was pretty much the only thing that didn't go totally right in 2009 for Kubel, who played in just five more games compared to '08 and increased his batting average by 28 points while hitting eight more homers and driving in 25 more runs.

Gardenhire said that had a lot to do with Kubel getting his legs under him after he was hampered by knee injuries earlier in his career.

"I think the serious knee injuries set him back a few years, but we've always known that the guy can hit, and last year was kind of a breakout year to where he really put everything together from the whole package -- RBIs, hitting the ball in the seats," Gardenhire said. "He's turned around to being one of the feared hitters in our lineup. This guy can put it in the seats with the best of them. He's a pretty good player."

As is the case with Cuddyer, not many fans outside of Minnesota recognize that -- not with the presence of Mauer and Morneau.

But Kubel doesn't believe a lack of headlines translates to a lack of respect by his peers or appreciation by his bosses. And he knows outside perceptions won't influence his contract status.

"I think just because it's not talked about doesn't mean it's not thought about," Kubel said regarding the Twins' club option on his contract. "I know all the other teams' pitchers, when they stare at our lineup, they feel the same way we do -- it's a tough lineup and there's really no easy outs. We make pitchers work, we make coaches make decisions on who they want to pitch to us.

"I think I'm starting to get to the point where I feel like my old self again, where I can actually play. I'm not worried about anything."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.