Spring Training is just around the corner for the Minnesota Twins, as pitchers and catchers report in just 39 days. With the 2015 season looming that close, it appears there may be only on position on the roster that has a level of uncertainty tied to it. Unfortunately, it is centerfield, which is a vital part of any major league starting lineup.
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Looking around the diamond, you can typically argue that both your starting shortstop, and centerfielder, are your two best athletes on the team. Ideally possessing a high baseball IQ, along with plus arm strength, and impressive top end speed, centerfielders are one of the sports premium positions. For the Twins, Byron Buxton waits in the wings, but there is a certain level of uncertainty tied to the position out of the gate.
Fortunately for the Twins, there are a couple of options. The less than fortunate part is that, on paper, none of them appear to be ideal. Operating from the belief that Aaron Hicks opens the 2015 season as the Twins starting centerfielder, let’s look at the possibilities.
No doubt 2015 is a make or break season for Hicks. A 2008 first round draft pick, Hicks has had a rocky start to his career. However, after being demoted to Double-A last season, Hicks started to turn things on, and appeared to show flashes of the impact player the Twins believed him to be when selecting him out of high school. The waiting game is over on Hicks though, and the time is now. Entering Spring Training, the job is his to lose, but he will also have to prove he wants it. A strong spring won’t change opinions about Hicks until he does it in the regular season, but a poor one could cost him his job for good.
Behind Hicks, the second most likely option is Jordan Schafer. A year ago, the Twins snatched Schafer off of waivers after he was designated for assignment by the Atlanta Braves. His bat has never been notable (with a career line of .229/.311/.310), but Schafer made it an asset for the Twins (2014 line:.285/.345/.362). Stealing 15 bases was an added bonus for Minnesota on the basepaths as well. In the field, Schafer may be the fastest outfielder on the Twins roster. With an ability to cover the vast outfield that is Target Field, a strong spring could put Schafer into an even split with Hicks.
Finally, the Twins offered a minor league contract, with an invite to Spring Training, to Shane Robinson. After spending his entire five-year major league career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Robinson joins the Twins organization. Over 60 at bats at the major league level last season, Robinson hit just .150/.227/.200. He has been used as a defensive replacement for much of his career, and provides very little with his bat. Robinson has played all three outfield spots and has compiled a +9 defensive runs saved above average over the course of his career, as well as a +13 defensive runs saved above average per year.
Looking at the three options for the Twins, I think there are some definite conclusions to be made. First and foremost, none of the above players will stop Byron Buxton from assuming his role with the Twins when he is deemed ready. Also, of the three above players, only Aaron Hicks should be logically able to play himself into a long-term future with the club, likely sliding over to left field. Should Hicks stumble again in 2015, and Schafer be forced to start, the Twins depth could be tested early. If Minnesota finds itself relying on Robinson in any capacity, the 90 loss threshold may again be in sight.
Should everything break the Twins way, Aaron Hicks will have his breakout year in 2015, and become the outfield talent that those like Joe Benson before him failed to be. The storyline is going to be one worth monitoring throughout the spring.
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