For those too young or too old to remember, Tonya Harding was famous for her figure skating. She became infamous for having her chief rival knee-capped just before the world championships. *
So Luke Hughes has lost the competition for utility spot despite hitting almost as many home runs this spring as the rest of his teammates combined. Imagine him responding to that announcement by Gardy. "So, who do I need to kneecap to get to the major leagues?"
Here is the answer in descending order of preference:
1) Jason Kubel
Hughes best position is hitting. Kubel getting hurt would allow Hughes to share DH at bats with Jim Thome. Since they are being cautious with Thome's work load, this would probably give Hughes is largest role.
2) Cuddyer or Young
This is the equivalent of Kubel getting hurt, since Kubel would likely move to a corner outfield spot if either of these two are injured.
With Thome hurt Hughes could share the DH spot with Kubel. But I think he would have fewer at bats than he would if he shared it with Thome.
Hughes can play third base and his bat may play there as well. By contrast, if you stick Tolbert at third you lose a lot of offense at what is, on balance, an offense oriented position.
Its possible if Nishioka were hurt that Hughes would take his place. But it is not a lock. Its also possible they would call up a better defensive replacement or use Tolbert.
Its possible if Tolbert was hurt that Hughes would have his spot. But its also possible that he wouldn't for the same reasons he didn't win it in the first place. A utility player with some speed who can play all the infield positions well is more valuable than another bat on the bench.
He is last on the list because a quality shortstop lik Plouffe is almost certain to be called up to play shortstop every day if Casilla is hurt. Hes on the list because there is an outside chance they would move Nishioka over to shortstop.
Obviously, Hughes isn't going to knee-cap anyone. Still, if I were one of these guys I would be very careful around Hughes when he has a bat in his hand toward the end of spring training.
*And you thought figure skating was a sissy sport! The fact is skating sports of all kinds include a lot of hard knocks when you fall down. As professional hockey demonstrates, its just a short step to inflicting bruises in other ways.
*Just to be entirely accurate, I don't think it was ever proven Harding actually directed the assault.