Over the last two seasons, the two men who accounted for most of the at-bats in the Minnesota Twins' leadoff spot were Denard Span and Ben Revere. Both were traded away this offseason, leaving a gaping hole at the top of the order (and in center field but that's a post for a different day). There will be a few different candidates to be the lead-off hitter, depending on who wins the vacancies in center field and in the middle infield.
For now, the Twins will turn over the starting to duties in center field to one of three candidates. Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, and Darin Mastroianni will all get a chance to earn the starting role in spring training. The middle infield situation is even more fluid and also will be determined this spring.
Of the center field candidates, Mastroainni has the most big league experience and offers some skills suited for a leadoff role. In only 77 games last season, he managed 21 steals, which ranked third on the team behind Revere and Alexi Casilla. He hit .252/.328/.345 last season with a limited amount of power. The Twins even penciled him into the first spot of the line-up for three different games last season, though he only hit .133/.188/.333 in his 16 plate appearances.
Hicks has been used as a lead-off hitter for most of his career in the minor leagues and also has the skill set to be a very good top of the order hitter. He is one of the most patient hitters in the minor leagues, drawing over 75 walks in each of his three full seasons at multiple levels. His on-base percentage is .379 for his professional career, despite posting some lower batting averages in his first few seasons. His speed is also very good as he stole 32 bases last year and he combined for 32 doubles and triples.
The Twins are going to need to see quite the performance from Benson to give him a starting job out of spring training. He was injured for most of last season and this caused his on-field performance to take a dive. Benson is still very athletic and he has shown a good ability to get on base when he is healthy. If Benson wins the starting job in center field, it might mean the Twins look to their infield for their leadoff hitter.
When looking at the infield candidates, Jamey Carroll played the most for the club in 2012. The 38-year old infielder had a rough start but found his swing through the course of the year. The Twins only used him as a leadoff hitter in one game last year so he might not be the likeliest candidate. He does know how to draw a walk and the Twins could use him at the top of the order until Hicks is ready to debut.
The other candidates for the starting jobs in the middle infield are Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, and Eduardo Escobar. These men aren't really leadoff hitter material since well... they don't really hit the ball. All three of these players struggled to hit for a decent average last season and they would most likely be suited for spots lower in the batting order. Dozier showed some ability to steal bases with nine steals in 11 attempts but his other numbers were too low to consider him a threat as a lead-off man.
If some of these other candidates don't look appealing, the dark horse for the leadoff spot could be the Twins highest paid player. Joe Mauer is the best hitter for average on the Twins and he has led the AL in on-base percentage in multiple seasons. He doesn't have a ton of speed but he is athletic enough that can steal a base on occasion. There really seems like no way manager Ron Gardenhire would put him in the lead-off spot but maybe there is a chance that he moves up to the number two spot.
Clearly, Hicks is the Twins leadoff hitter of the future but the future might begin after Opening Day. At this point, it seems most likely for Hicks to start at Triple-A with Mastroianni getting the job on Opening Day. Here is where I would rank the leadoff hitters at this point, and the only reason Mauer is at the bottom is because there seems to be a very little chance that he will be moved from the middle of the order.
Leadoff Hitter Rankings:
1. Aaron Hicks
2. Darin Mastroianni
3. Jamey Carroll
4. Joe Mauer
If you were putting together the roster for 2013, who would be your leadoff man for Opening Day? How about at the halfway point of the season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.