Back in the 1993 when the Twins drafted a high school outfielder from Arkansas, there was plenty of hope surrounding his future. The greatest player in franchise history, Kirby Puckett, was manning the outfield for the current team and this new athletic young man was in line to be his heir apparent. Puckett's career would be cut short in the coming years but Torii Hunter would lead a revitalization of the Twins franchise in the 2000s.
Two decades after being drafted, Hunter has found the third team of his career. He left the Twins following the 2007 to continue his career with the Los Angeles Angels. The lure of a large contract and a bigger market was too much to turn down for Hunter at the time. As a 37-year old aging outfielder, he is still getting a big contract but this time he is searching for something more... to cement his legacy.
Hunter has found his way back to the American League Central. He signed a 2-year, $26 million contract with the Detroit Tigers so he can win the championship for which he has searched his entire career. Like many players approaching the end of their careers, Hunter wants to go out on top. He is coming off of a rejuvenating season with the Angels and Detroit looks to be the place where he continues his title hunt.
The Tigers are coming off of a berth in the World Series but their club was lacking some offensive punch down the stretch. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder had very good years in the middle of Detroit's line-up and Austin Jackson has turned into a very good lead-off man. Hunter will most likely slide into the number two spot in the order behind Jackson and in front of Cabrera and Fielder.
In 2012, Hunter put together one of his best offensive seasons. He finished with a batting average over .300 for the first time in his career and he still managed to put up decent power numbers in the middle of the Angels line-up. His offensive WAR was the highest of his career and he combined that with above average defense in a corner outfield spot.
Hunter's career offensive numbers continue to pile up as he enters his 17th big league season next year. There are a few offensive milestones he can cross in a Tigers uniform. He is only three home runs away from 300 for his career and he is only 14 hits away from the 2,000 mark. It will be nice for Hunter to reach these milestones in 2013 but the true test of his legacy might be what he can do to add to these totals, as he gets closer to 40 years old.
Defense will always be the trademark of Hunter's legacy in the major leagues. "Spider-Man," as he became known for his acrobatic feats, will always be remembered by Twins fans for his ability to rob home runs over the blue plastic wall at the Metrodome. Hunter won Gold Gloves from 2001 to 2009, and that number ranks seventh all-time among outfielders. His never-say-die attitude led to more than one injury when he was tracking down fly balls but his highlight reel catches far outweigh the times he ended up hurt.
Like Puckett before him and other aging outfielders, Hunter has been shifted from centerfield to a corner outfield spot. He might be a little slower but he has plenty of years experience to rely on at this point. He knows the routes to the ball off of the bat and he can still provide solid defense as he finishes out his career.
The charismatic Hunter will always hold a place in the heart of Twins Territory. Fans might find it a little more difficult to cheer for the outfielder now that he is on a rival AL Central team. He will be trolling the outfield on Opening Day at Target Field for the second year in a row, but alas, it won't be in a Twins uniform.
His legacy with the Twins doesn't seem to be in jeopardy but a title with Detroit could be the icing on the cake for his overall legacy.