I’ve never been one to get too excited about Spring Training. Even in my most fanatical fandom days my interest never got too fired up until about mid-April. As a numbers guy, much of the fun about baseball is watching guys accumulate statistics – and ST statistics just really don’t mean much. So while I won’t be fanatically checking box scores or listening to games until the real season starts, there are a couple position battles that will keep me interested as the season approaches. The three most contentious positions happen to be three of the most important positions defensively on the field – the up the middle positions of 2B, SS, and CF. And at two of the positions, the leading candidate in Ron Gardenhire’s mind appear to be guys who have the chance to be cornerstones in the rebuilding process and guys who could man the positions for years to come.
At second base, the leading contenders appear to be Brian Dozier and Jamey Carroll. With Carroll we have a proven commodity but a guy who’s at the end of his career. He’ll give the team rock solid effort and decent production likely, but without much upside and leaving the team with another position battle looming next year. Dozier, on the other hand, is relatively young and though he struggled both defensively and offensively last year, has a track record that suggests he could develop into an above average 2B both offensively and defensively. And as much as the Twins have struggled to develop middle infielders in the past decade, finding a long term answer there would be ideal. I really believe everyone in the Twins organization is pulling for Dozier and he’ll have to really struggle during the spring to not win that position.
At shortstop, it appears Pedro Florimon is the odds on favorite for the job. Though he’s also relatively young, I doubt anyone sees him as a potential building block. He’ll give the team very good defense, but he can’t hit at all. It appears that The Twins see Daniel Santana as the future at the position. Eduardo Escobar appears to be the chief competition. He is a little younger and profiles as a slightly better hitter and slightly poorer defender. James Beresford appears to be the wildcard in this competition. He’s a guy who seems like he would be a Gardy guy. He has no power but plays good D and can hit a little and get on base. He’s probably the best bet of the three to not be a complete black hole in the lineup and has reportedly bulked up over the offseason. I suspect Florimon will win the job but I’d like to see the other guys come in and make him earn it.
Centerfield is easily the most interesting position battle. Darin Mastroianni was considered the early frontrunner until Gardy jumped on the Aaron Hicks bandwagon. Joe Benson is the darkhorse – a former top prospect who after an injury plagued year last year kind of became a forgotten man. Mastroianni is the oldest at 27, Benson is 24, and Hicks is 23. All three have very good tools but questions about their bats. Mastroianni is probably the fastest and is a very good base stealer. Hicks and Benson both have good speed but aren’t great bases tealers but both have good power. Benson has the most homerun power. Hicks is more of a doubles and triples guy but the Twins hope the homerun power will come. Mastroianni will never hit for much power. The biggest question for all of them is how much they will hit. Defensively all three profile as above average to excellent range, with Hicks and Benson both having plus arms. Personally I hope that Benson wins the job out of the gate leaving Mastroianni as an excellent fourth outfielder and giving Hicks a little more development time in AAA. And hopefully Benson hits well enough that when Hicks is ready, Benson can slide to right or left and give the team two legitimate centerfielders in their outfield.
We’ll see how these battles play out but we could very well be seeing guys come out of spring training with jobs they will have for several years.