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Now's the time for Cuddyer

He hopesto earn starting job in right field

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The only two Minnesota-made products have been relegated to the minor league spring training facility at the other end of the Lee County Sports Complex, but Michael Cuddyer keeps going. And surviving.

Just a few days ago, the Minnesota Twins made the first cuts to their 50-plus-man roster. Among them were Joe Mauer and Michael Restovich, both natives of the Twins' summer home. With four years of minor league experience, Restovich probably will make the team a year or two sooner than Mauer, who was drafted as the No. 1 overall pick last June in the free agent draft.

Cuddyer hopes his time is now.

For the first time in his five-year career with the Twins, Cuddyer didn't find himself wincing on Sunday morning, when the cuts were announced.

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For the first time in his pro career, Cuddyer is legitimately competing for a spot on the Twins' major league roster.

Crowded field

It's a crowded competition. Cuddyer, Brian Buchanan, Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr all are fighting for the starting right-field spot. Although the starting job almost certainly will go to Buchanan, there is still a supporting cast spot or two up for grabs.

Cuddyer has been making his case. Before Tuesday's game, he was hitting .259 (7-for-27) with a homer and five RBIs. "At the plate, I'm swinging the bat really well, and I'm just having fun," Cuddyer said. "I feel like I'm improving every day out there in right field."

He's started a handful of games in right field, a game at first base and a game at third. Clearly, outfield is his position, but the versatility helps.

"It's definitely an asset," said Cuddyer. "As long as I feel comfortable at every position that I play, it allows me to get into the game wherever they need me. If Doug (Mientkiewicz) goes down at first, that allows me to go there. If Corey (Koskie) goes down, I can play third. The more positions that you can play comfortably, the better off you are."

Ever since he was drafted as the Twins' No. 1 pick in 1997, Cuddyer has appeared comfortable with every step along the way.

He hit .276 with 12 homers and 81 RBIs in Class A Fort Wayne. He hit .298 with 16 homers and 82 RBIs in Class A Fort Myers. He slumped a little in 2000, when he hit .263 with just six homers and 61 RBIs in AA New Britain. But he erased those worries last season at New Britain, when he hit .301 with 30 homers and 87 RBIs, and won the Twins minor league player of the year award.

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"This is all you can ask for -- a chance to make the squad," Cuddyer said, as he looked out at the plush surroundings of Hammond Stadium. "I've been given that chance, and I just have to go out there and have fun and make the most of it."

Still a long shot

Still, Cuddyer's considered a long shot. Buchanan has major league experience. Kielty can play all three outfield positions. Mohr is hitting .462 with a slugging percentage of .731.

Even so, Cuddyer remains positive. With three weeks left of spring training, he likes his chances.

"They're just as good as anybody else," he said. "I'm going out there and playing pretty well and everybody's playing well. …; But you know this isn't personal. This is a business. This is a game. So let the best man be out there."

Cuddyer hopes he's the best man.

Troy Young is a Post-Bulletin sports writer who is in Florida covering the Minnesota Twins in spring training. He can be reached at tyoung@postbulletin.com.

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