2016 Minnesota Twins Off-Season Outlook: Outfielders
Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a six-part segment detailing the Minnesota Twins and the 2016 off season. On deck: Free agency preview. Part: 1, 2, 3, 4.
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Is the outfield the strongest part of the Minnesota Twins or a veiled weakness? Defensively its potential is very good, but several question marks remain when it comes to the bat. But as the old cliche goes, bats are the last to arrive.
Filled with young talent, it’s hard to imagine the Twins turn to free agency or trade if a void crops up, but a rotational fourth outfielder would be a welcome addition. While a players will open the season with starting jobs, they still have questions to answer moving forward.
On the cusp
Oct. 9, 2014; Mesa, AZ, USA; Minnesota Twins outfielder Max Kepler plays for the Salt River Rafters against the Mesa Solar Sox during an Arizona Fall League game at Cubs Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Byron Buxton: Nobody comes with more intrigue in 2016 than the former top prospect*. Expectations are high and being followed by a small sample size (138 at-bats) of a very underwhelming debut (.209/.250/.326). That’s after only 59 AB in Triple-A. he’s gaining the reputation as a slow start to new levels, but he’s eventually hit, and there’s no reason yet to think he won’t. Interestingly enough, Buxton produced +4 Defensive Runs Saved, but a -2.3 Ultimate Zone Rating. The bottom line to 2016 is this: We need to stop reminding people how bad Mike Trout‘s debut was in 2011 (.220/.281/.390) and thinking every slow-starting prospect will replicate. Trout was (and is) a historic player for his age, and that’s not easy or fair company to keep casually lumping young players into.
Max Kepler: A top-15 prospect last year who will vault into the top-10. He crushed Double-A pitching to the tune of .322/.416/.531, producing 67 walks to 63 strikeouts in 482 AB. I’d like to see his power numbers improve more. Kepler will start at Triple-A with an eye for an earlier call-up than September.
Something to prove
Eddie Rosario: A nice surprise in 2015 considering the 2014 production drop after a failed drug test. The numbers rebounded some, but his his wayward strikeout (24.9 percent) and walk (3.2 percent) rates need to improve. His .267 average was helped by a .332 BABIP. Overall though he was a still 2.3-WAR player who was a strong contributor with the bat and glove in left field, where he easily starts in 2016.
Aaron Hicks: Will we see the Aaron Hicks of 2013/2014 or the Aaron Hicks of 2015? If Hunter returned, Hicks would have become a guaranteed trade chip. He still might if the Twins felt he wasn’t going to be a consistent option. That question still remains, but ready talent to cover four outfield spots remains elusive, to a certain extent. The biggest positives last year for Hicks was his improved defense and sharp reduction in strikeouts. I’m not fully-sold on him yet.
Mar 3, 2015; Ft. Myers, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Danny Santana (39) poses during photo day at Hammond Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Danny Santana: He once looked like the answer at shortstop, but 2016 will see him vying for a bench spot. A disappointing .215/.241/.291 followed a rookie campaign that saw him hit .319/.353/.472. He’s versatile enough to play outfield and shortstop, which combined with a pre-arbitration cost, keeps him around for a chance to bounce back from every meaning of the “sophomore slump.” Santana (also Hicks) is out of options, so missing the Opening Day roster means he could be lost on waivers, but I’ll bet he gets a chance considering age/experience. Regardless, it’s time to show up for Santana before he is passed up by younger talent.
Oswaldo Arcia: Another competitor for an outfield spot without minor league options remaining. Arcia has more power than anyone listed here, but hasn’t impressed with the bat or glove on a broad spectrum. He may be on his last chance to break with the club even as a DH, but he’d be tough to sneak through waivers as a power bat. If it looks like his tenure in Minnesota is over, they’ll be more likely to shop him around in trades, but his popularity on the waiver wire might mean he hangs around by default.
With six players — plus Eduardo Nunez — looking to occupy four spots, it’s hard to imagine Minnesota chasing down a free agent or trade for an outfielder. Rosario and Hicks are all-but locked in as starters, and Buxton would ideally join them.
With that in mind, I want to offer a few options who could start Opening Day (sans Buxton) or fill a fourth outfield role if the Twins decide to go a route other than Santana and Arcia.
Will Venable: He’s not flashy but can play all three outfield spots and fill voids off the bench. FanGraphs’ David Cameron predicts him going to Washington on a 1-year/$5 million deal. Could be a little pricey for the Twins’ payroll and outfield needs.
Marlon Byrd: At 38, a team on the upswing is appealing, but he probably looks for more consistent long-term work or a team closer to the promised land. There are worse options than a right-handed bat with 20-home run power. Though his defense declined quickly of late. On a one-year term, why not try it?
*Buxton surpassed rookie status in 2015, removing him from my criteria for prospect status.