Maybe it was the knee surgery or the change in position or a new organization that allowed Australian Justin Huber to bloom. Whatever it was, his outstanding performance for the Wichita Wranglers earned Huber MiLB.com's Double-A Foreign-Born Player of the Year Award.
Although his power numbers remain a work in progress, Huber -- a catcher-turned-first baseman -- was one of the top run producers in Double-A this year. He knocked in 74 runs in 88 games to complement a .343 batting average and 16 dingers for the Kansas City Royals' Texas League affiliate. What's more, he delivered when it counted the most.
Huber's average with runners in scoring position was an eye-opening .426, and more than two-thirds of his RBIs came in those situations. The 23-year-old Aussie also was stellar with runners on and two out, batting .306 (15-for-49) and driving in 23 runs.
Huber's numbers showed dramatic improvement pretty much across the board since joining the Royals organization as part of a three-team deal involving the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. After failing to bat higher than .286 in his previous four professional seasons, he became a hitting machine in the Kansas City system, rattling off streaks of 11 and 14 games.
The improvement probably can be traced to the Royals' decision to move Huber from catcher to first base after he underwent season-ending knee surgery in 2004. Freed from the rigors of handling pitchers and the strain of crouching behind the plate, he had more time and energy to focus on offense.
Scouts project that Huber could emerge as a consistent 20-home run threat and become a successor to Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney. He is blossoming at just the right time, and if he continues to mature with fellow farmhands Billy Butler and Shane Costa, Huber could help build a solid foundation for a resurgent Kansas City club.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.