Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve been providing a rundown on who the Twins will have in Spring Training camp at each position, including projected starters and backups, as well as long shots to make the Opening Day roster.
More than half of the Twins positional starters are basically set in stone, but we’ll take a look at the contenders where there is competition; many of the more interesting battles in camp will play out for backup spots as the spring progresses. And while even a strong camp will still mean relegation to the minors for a lot of these guys, they’ll be just an injury away from seeing time with the Twins at some point over the course of the season.
So far, we’ve run down the catchers, first, second and third base, shortstop and left field. Today, we’ll look at the competition at center field as we move our way around the diamond over the course of Spring Training.
PROJECTED STARTER: Darin Mastroianni
Aaron Hicks‘s defense and arm have been MLB-ready for a couple of years now. He’s fast, he sees a lot of pitches, and his walk rate has stayed consistently high as he’s moved up levels over the course of his minor league career. So why not start him in center, watch his arm and speed play up in Target Field’s spacious outfield, and allow him to learn MLB pitching on the job while his OBP keeps him afloat? Two words: team control. He’s a stud now, and he’s still going to be a stud in a month or so into the season once the Twins are guaranteed an additional year of team control with the 22 year old. I expect Hicks to make the majority of starts in center field for the Twins in 2013, but I fully expect him to start the season in AAA Rochester. The last position player other than Baby Jesus that the Twins had skip AAA and start the season with the big league club without making an appearance in September? Cristian Guzman in 1999.
In my perfect world, Joe Benson would break camp with the big league club, proving that his 2012 was just a blip in the larger scope of his career, and assure Twins brass that they can move Justin Morneau and/or Josh Willingham as Benson and Hicks could take over those vacated roster spots. I fully expect Benson to have a bounce-back season in 2013, but I think the Twins will want him to play every day and, having played only 28 career games at AAA, the team may have him start the season in Rochester.
I’ll be pleasantly surprised if Hicks breaks camp with the Twins, and I’m rooting for Benson to take the job and run with it this spring, although I think his ultimate landing spot will be in left field. All of that said, I think Mastroianni has the best chance of the three contenders to head north as the club’s starting center fielder out of spring training, and we’ll see Hicks come up in early May, at which point Mastroianni will go back to maximizing his value as a fourth outfielder. It has less to do with talent and everything to do with logistics.
PROJECTED BACKUP: Brandon Boggs
If either Hicks or Benson start the season in center, Boggs becomes redundant, but if the Twins do go with Mastroianni, Boggs makes the most sense going into camp as a fourth outfielder. After Hicks comes up, we might not see Boggs in a Twins uniform the rest of the season. Still, he’s a solid player with MLB experience in center field and as a leadoff hitter. You can find my write up of Boggs here.
I wrote about both Clete Thomas and Wilkin Ramirez in my left field spring training preview, but the gist of it is that Thomas played more center field in Rochester last year than at any previous point in his career, and Ramirez was a one-time top prospect who will have to prove his glove can play center if he hopes to stick with the club as a backup. Both men will be in the competition for the fourth outfielder spot.
This is the most-hotly contested competition in spring training, and you can make a compelling argument for any one of Hicks, Benson or Mastroianni to win the job. Rather than throwing out here what I want to have happen, I’ve written what I think will most likely happen at the end of the day: Mastroianni and Boggs head north out of spring training, Hicks comes up about a month later, and Benson makes his way back to The Show at some point this season, probably around the All-Star break. Honestly, I’m rooting against my own projections here.