Huber relishes fresh start in San Diego
Long coveted by Padres, slugger to provide pop off bench
SAN DIEGO -- There was no way of knowing that the Kansas City Royals were going to trade outfielder/first baseman Justin Huber before the end of Spring Training, though the 25-year-old planned accordingly, just in case.
"I packed really light," Huber quipped before Monday's regular-season opener at PETCO Park against the Houston Astros.
That Huber, a native Australian, was standing in front of a locker in the Padres clubhouse with his name on a placard on Monday still seemed a little surreal. Huber was acquired from the Royals for a player to be named later or cash considerations on March 26.
Huber could have just as easily been suiting up for the Royals -- or any other team -- as he was out of Minor League options and had to make Kansas City's 25-man roster to start the season or the Royals would have risked losing him.
But the Royals apparently had enough outfielders and opted to deal Huber to the Padres last week. The move essentially gave Huber a new lease on his professional life as he'll get a chance to play left field with the Padres and provide some right-handed pop off the bench.
Huber hit a home run in Saturday's exhibition loss to the Angels, showing the kind of raw power that made him a prospect on the rise with the New York Mets not long ago.
"Whatever my role it is, I'm looking to take it by the horns and run with it. I believe in my abilities," said Huber, who has a career .204 batting average in 90 career at-bats. "I'll be working especially hard to get that edge to help the team.
"I'm really excited things worked out this way, being with this team, being in the National League with more opportunities. I'm just really happy to be here.
Huber acknowledges that his time in Kansas City likely ran its course, though the harbors no hard feelings, nor does he feel like he wasn't given a fair shake.
"You can get bogged down at times. I'm not sure I was experiencing that in Kansas City or not," Huber said. "I had no complaints there. But hopefully this is going to be a really good fit for me."
Huber, who can play left and right field, first base in a pinch and can even play catcher, was hitting .346 this spring with the Royals. In fact, the Padres have had interest in the right-handed-hitting Huber for quite some time.
"We've had interest in this guy the last couple of years," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. "He's always posted very good numbers in the Minors. He has very good power and we really didn't have a right-handed threat [off the bench]."
San Diego manager Bud Black said Huber could start on Wednesday with the Astros starting left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, though he'll likely get most of his plate appearances off the bench.
He'll also be the Padres' emergency catcher, a position that he played from 2001-2004 while he was in the Mets' organization. That will allow the Padres to use both of their catchers, Josh Bard and Michael Barrett, in the same game, if necessary.
Not that Huber would mind throwing on the catchers' equipment, especially if it meant more playing time.
"Catching is how I got over here and my bat is what has kept me here," said Huber, who signed with the Mets as a free agent in 2000. "It's funny how you map things out. If you had asked me when I was 18 what I would be doing when I was 25, I probably would have said catching every day at Shea Stadium. It's funny how things turn out."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.