Going into camp…
The Twins announced an open competition between incumbent fourth outfielder Darin Mastroianni, top prospect Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson, who had a lost 2012 after previously solidifying himself as a top prospect in his own right.
Hicks was viewed as the heir apparent at the position after a superb 2012 at AA, and Mastroianni a placeholder if service time issues would cause the Twins to send Hicks to AAA for a few weeks to begin the season. I think just about everyone came into the spring hoping for Benson to rebound from last year.
How the competition has played out thus far:
Hicks has had an outstanding spring training so far, hitting to the tune of .306/.352/.633 including a 3-HR game. He’s reportedly shown his range and arm in center field as advertised while minimizing defensive gaffes, and swiped three bags, to boot.
Mastroianni, though, has quietly returned from a minor injury to hit even better than Hicks in three fewer games, posting a .400/.448/.560 line for an OPS just north of 1.000. He’s stolen six bases while striking out just three times in 29 plate appearances to Hicks’ 14 Ks in 54 PA.
Benson has struggled so far this spring at the plate and at times in the field, but has shown flashes of the tools that made him a top prospect. The rust Benson has shown coming off of 2012 shouldn’t be a shock, but at this point it looks like he’ll most likely have to improve his standing within the organization in the minors to start the season.
Terry Ryan stated that service time will not play into the center field competition, but I take that to mean that Aaron Hicks can win the job if he plays well and both of the other contenders struggle mightily this spring. Hicks has taken care of the first part of that equation, putting up great numbers to this point…although the strikeouts are less than ideal and his 3-HR game certainly helped jack up his numbers. However, the second part of the equation, that both of the other contenders will have to fail, hasn’t happened, at least not yet.
As excited as I think we all are about Hicks, Mastroianni has played well enough to earn the center field job for a few weeks to start the season. That is, of course, assuming he keeps it up and Hicks doesn’t go on another tear.
At this point, center field is probably the most hotly-contested competition of the spring, and the next week and a half should dictate a lot. Stay tuned, this one could come down to the wire.