From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Michael Cuddyer
Welcome to the third installment of our new series here on “It’s All Relative”, From Fort Wayne to Fruition, a look at players that have spent time during their minor league careers with either the Wizards or the TinCaps and then have gone on to play Major League Baseball. The word fruition, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as ”the state of being real or complete”, and for our purposes that’s very fitting. Players reaching the majors have their dream come to fruition, although by no means does that mean their journey is complete. Some of the players in this series have had storied MLB careers, while others have only seen a few games of time in the show. However, the odds of ever making it onto a Minor League Baseball roster, let alone an MLB one, are slim, and so it’s worth recognizing those who have been fortunate and talented enough to reach the apex of professional baseball in the United States.
I’m going to go in no particular order with any of these players, but if you do have any requests, please do let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you. (You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter, @MikeCouzens.) As of today, the list of former Fort Wayne players to have reached the majors stands at 118. Some of the more notable alums include LaTroy Hawkins, AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, and David Eckstein, while some names you may not be as familiar with, like Mike Baxter, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. Each one of them has a story–where they’re from, how they got to Fort Wayne and, ultimately, how they got to play in Major League Baseball.
Contestant number three in our series is Michael Cuddyer, who is currently a member of the Colorado Rockies, just the second team he’s played for in his 13-year major league career.
Cuddyer was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and went to high school in Chesapeake, Virginia. Although throughout Minor League Baseball we’ve become accustomed to seeing the best players come from locations that have climates conducive to year-round baseball (Florida, California, Georgia, etc.), Virginia isn’t necessarily what you’d think of as one of those baseball hotbeds. However, in the years since Cuddyyer was drafted by Minnesota in 1997 (1st round, 9th overall), many more high-level players have emerged from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, such as brothers BJ and Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.
The draft is held annually in June, but Cuddyer didn’t sign his contract with the Twins until August of ’97, meaning that he missed any chance of playing for an MiLB affiliate that season. However, under the most recent revision of the collective bargaining agreement, draft picks must be signed by mid-July, which means they’ll get on the field, even with a rookie-level affiliate, much sooner.
Cuddyer played with the Wizards in 1998, appearing in 129 games. He hit .276 with 12 home runs (he would’ve been the team leader each of the last few years), and 81 runs batted in. He had a .364 on-base percentage, and also stole 16 bases in 1998. He saw time around the infield during his time in the minors. Unfortunately for Cuddyer, he holds a mark in the Fort Wayne record books that may never be broken—most errors in one season. He committed 61 errors during the 1998 season. The highest single-season error total by one player in the TinCaps’ five-year tenure is 43 by shortstop Jonathan Galvez in 2010.However, Cuddyer’s 81 runs batted in are also the fourth-most by any player in a single season, and his 37 doubles are fifth-most.
In 1999, at age 20, he moved on to Advanced-A Fort Myers, where he saw all of his major numbers improve. He hit .298 with 16 home runs and knocked in 82. In 2000, he moved up to Double-A New Britain, playing 138 of a possible 142 games. He repeated the level in 2001, missing just one game and hitting an impressive 30 home runs, while driving home 87 runs and hitting 36 doubles. His stellar play at Double-A, much more a breeding ground for top-level prospects than Triple-A is, earned him a trip to the big leagues in 2001 as a late-season call-up for the Twins, and he made his MLB debut on September 23, 2001 against the Cleveland Indians.
Cuddyer started the 2002 season with the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. This is the field they played on:
(Side Note: There is currently only one Minor League Baseball team in Canada , the Vancouver Canadians, Short-Season affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The last affiliated team to leave Canada was the Ottawa Lynx, which became the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies) in 2008.)
He made his way back into the majors late in the 2002 season after playing 86 games in the Pacific Coast League. 2003 saw him split time between Triple-A Rochester (N.Y.) and the bigs, with 2004 being his first full season with Minnesota.
The 6’2″, 220-pounder has played the majority of his MLB games at third base (355 games), but has seen time at a variety of spots including outfield (130 games), shortstop (122 games), first base (68 games), second base (nine games) and right field (four games). During the 2011 season, he became the first Twins position player to pitch in 21 years, and fans even made a Facebook page petitioning the team to play him at all nine positions in one game. He has hit double-digit home runs in nine of his 13 seasons in the majors, and in December 2011, the last remnant of Fort Wayne’s association with Minnesota to still be with the Twins, he signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Rockies. In exchange for losing Cuddyer, the Twins got two supplemental first-round draft picks. One of those picks, Jose Berrios, ended up playing against the TinCaps this past season as a member of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Minnesota’s affiliate in the Midwest League.
In 2013, Cuddyer had a career season and won the National League Silver Slugger Award:
“Cuddyer, 34, won his first career batting title by leading the National League with a .331 mark in what was his second season in Colorado. He finished with a .311 road average to tie for the sixth best mark in the National League.
Cuddyer was named to his second career All-Star team in 2013 and finished the season with a batting line of: .331 average, 162 hits, 31 doubles, 3 triples, 20 home runs, 84 RBI, 74 runs, .389 on-base percentage, .530 slugging percentage.
The Norfolk, Va. native set career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (.919) this season.”
He has one year, the 2014 season, remaining on his contract with Colorado.
When Cuddyer made his debut in 2001, he became the 27th Fort Wayne alum to reach Major League Baseball.
Lupe Fiasco and Ed Sheeran…take it away!