Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
To put it lightly, the Minnesota Twins have had a disappointing, albeit interesting year, with plenty of stories of futility. One of the stories that is flying under the radar though is the revolving door of outfielders. Through 140 games, the Twins have used 11 different players in the outfield with little to no changes in success. Bottom line, it’s never a positive sign of overall team wellbeing to see such a high number. If the starting three are playing well, only a fourth backup outfielder is needed to give a rest every once in a while to the top guys. Suffice to say, the Twins outfielders have not been playing well, with two of the opening day starters (Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmelee) currently playing in Triple-A. Injuries have played their role too but the Twins have been throwing new guys into the outfield just hoping they can perform better than the last one. Take a look at the numbers of the guys listed as outfielders (ordered by AB). Chris Colabello, Chris Herrmann and Ryan Doumit’s various stints in the outfield bring the total up to the aforementioned 11 players.
Too much can be said about the lackluster numbers of these guys, but let’s take a cautiously optimistic look to 2014. Willingham can’t play that much worse than his injury filled 2013 and if he can play closer to his career year in 2012, he’ll provide a lot of value next season. Arcia is close to a sure bet to be a middle of the order fixture for the Twins for a long time and he is just going through rookie growing pains. Even if he develops into just an average MLB hitter, Aaron Hicks has too many other skills to not be an asset in the Twins outfield. Hands down these three should be the opening day starters in 2014. Alex Presley has impressed in his short time since coming over from the Pirates and the Twins should give him plenty of September at bats to prove his worth for next season. With Presley as a fourth outfielder in 2014, Thomas, Ramirez and Mastroianni should fight for their baseball lives to prove they even deserve a chance to stay in the Twins organization. Herrmann and Doumit’s versatility make the three of them expendable and Trevor Plouffe’s eventual displacement by Miguel Sano at third base would create another super utility player on the roster. Finally, barring an improbable signing of Justin Morneau, Chris Colabello and Chris Parmelee should compete in spring training for the open first base job, with an edge given to Colabello who is hitting extremely well in September.
Best case scenario, everyone turns it around and the Twins outfield thrives right from the get go. But truthfully, the 2014 outfield would be a complete success in my eyes if they are able to function at a high enough level that it keeps baseball’s number one rated prospect, Byron Buxton, in the minors for the whole year. As exciting and awesome as it would be to see Buxton playing for the Twins, it can’t hurt to keep him in the minors while he fully develops his raw talent at each level. Start him in Double-A, promote him at midseason to Triple-A and give him a September call-up if he continues to dominate at every level, but don’t rush him. The Twins saw what happened to Aaron Hicks when they promoted him too early so the 2014 outfield would do Buxton a huge favor by giving him more time to develop instead of forcing him before he’s ready to take over an awful outfield. Another bonus of this plan, Buxton stays under team control for another year and he enters Spring Training 2015 with sky-high confidence to start his age 21 season.
Byron Buxton is the hope of every Twins fan, but the 2014 outfield has the potential to get the turnaround started early.