Justin Huber’s Long Journey Lands Him in Somerset
The long journey that has landed Justin Huber in the middle of the Patriots lineup began in 2000 when the New York Mets thought they had acquired a diamond in the rough when they signed the 18-year old Australian born catcher as an amateur free agent. Finding talent from the land down under is somewhat of a rarity these days, and the Mets found one of the most decorated players to ever hail from the country to assist in bolstering their farm system.
“I was only 18 when I signed with the Mets,” said Huber. “I still had six months of high school left after signing with the team and I already knew that my path was set.”
With little interest or exposure for “America’s pastime” in Australia, Huber grew up as a young boy without a rooting interest for a particular baseball team or player.
“Back at that time there wasn’t really cable television or the internet like there is now,” explained Huber. “My first Major League Baseball memory that I can remember is watching the Phillies and Blue Jays in the World Series in 1993, the Joe Carter home run stands out to me.”
After graduating high school, Huber made his way to the states and wasted little time making a name for himself in the Mets minor league system. He belted seven home runs and drove in 31 runs for a .287 average in his first professional season.
Huber continued his development at a rapid pace in 2002, when he quickly escalated up the organizations prospect rankings by hitting 14 home runs and driving in 93 runs while posting an incredible .399 on base percentage. The performance of Huber had set his stock at an all-time high as a trade chip. General Managers across the MLB saw a 20-year old catcher who had hit 21 home runs and driven in 124 runs in his first two professional seasons while playing in leagues dominated by top pitching prospects.
Midway through the summer of 2004, it was revealed that Huber would need surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, and suddenly, his days as an everyday catcher appeared to be over. Just one day later, the Mets gave up on Huber when they traded him to the Kansas City Royals organization in exchange for eventual 2010 home run champion, Jose Bautista.
“The trade from the Mets completely blindsided me,” admitted Huber. “It came the day after I found out I was going to undergo season ending surgery. I went from one day being with the Mets, getting ready to play for Athens in the Olympics in a week to being in the Kansas City organization and out for the season, it was a whirlwind turn of events for sure.”
Huber added, “My time with the Mets was absolutely awesome. It was like opening up a history book playing in their system. We had guys like Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra and Howard Johnson coaching us. It was like having the 1986 championship team coaching you as an 18-year old; it was special.”
“I remember working with Mike Piazza a lot in my first year in big league camp in 2002; he was always helpful to me,” said Huber. “He was very thoughtful and encouraging and till this day I use many of the techniques and tips that he taught me in my early years.”
Knowing the toll that catching takes on a players knees, the Royals made an organizational decision to convert Huber to a first baseman. The move appeared to have paid off tremendously for Kansas City, as Huber posted career bests in essentially every offensive category with 23 home runs, 97 runs batted in, with a .326 batting average and .417 on base percentage in 2005.
In the midst of posting those remarkable statistics, Huber was named to Major League Baseball’s annual Futures game for the third time, which pits the very best prospects in the game in an all-star style contest. Players such as Hanley Ramirez, Justin Verlander, Francisco Liriano and BJ Upton were also selected to play in the game that season. Playing for the World team, Huber fueled the 4-0 victory over the United States with a two-run double to garner the games prestigious MVP honors.
Shortly after that day, Huber got the call every kid dreams of as a boy when he was informed that he had been promoted to the Major League roster. On June 21, he made his big league debut as a pinch hitter against the Chicago White Sox but failed to record a hit. Three days later, again as a pinch hitter, Huber killed two birds with one stone when he recorded both his first career hit and RBI with a double off of Colorado Rockies pitcher, Byung-Hyun Kim.
“I still have the baseball from my first hit off of Kim,” said Huber. “I’ll never forget the scout, James Waddell, who was vital in my signing with the Mets earlier on, happened to have lived in Denver at the time. It was great to get my first hit in front of him and all of his family and friends.”
Over the span of the next two seasons, in 2006-2007, Huber received just 20 at bats in the big leagues while continuing to post gaudy offensive numbers at the Triple-A level of the minor leagues. Feeling as though his value within the organization was diminishing, the Royals dealt Huber to the San Diego Padres in March of 2008 for a player to be named later. Huber would appear in 33 games for the team where he recorded his first career big league home run against arguably one of the best pitchers of all-time, Randy Johnson.
“It was a long time coming,” said Huber. “I didn’t see much big league time for a while, I remember we played Arizona that night and what made the home run even more special was the fact that we won the game. It was the first time that reporters actually gathered around my locker and wanted to talk to me after a game.”
After that season, Huber became a free agent and inked a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins. He appeared in just one Major League game that season and has not played for a big league club since. He played in Japan for Hiroshima in 2010 before signing on in 2011 with the Patriots.
“Culture wise, Japan was amazing,” Huber admitted. “The people, the food, the politeness, the cleanliness, it was incredible. Baseball wise, I had my ups and downs but the way they play the game there is much different in terms of philosophy and strategy. If I could do it again I’d do it ten times out of ten.”
Many players that come to the Atlantic League after playing in the major leagues are often towards the tail end of their careers with little left in the tank. What makes the case of Huber so much more unique is the fact that he has put up great numbers at every level he has played yet has still never received a long period of consistent major league at bats to prove himself. He is in Somerset this season to do just that.
Huber says his decision to join Somerset came after talking to his good friend, Patriots icon, Josh Pressley.
“I actually drove across the state of Florida that day and went to go stay with Josh,” Huber said. “We worked out together for a couple of weeks and told me that if nothing else came up, he had a great team up in Somerset that would love to have me, and I’m glad to be here.”
And certainly the Patriots are glad to have the presence of Huber in the middle of their lineup that has struggled early on this season. Huber has hit .281 with a team high three home runs and five runs batted in and is currently in the midst of an eight game hitting streak.
“Everyone on this team has some kind of story just like mine,” said Huber. “We all have something to prove to people, that’s what makes us so good together; we go out everyday wanting to kick somebody’s butt.”
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