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  • Position Battle: Starting Center Fielder

    Over the next two weeks, we’ll be writing about some of the biggest topics of the Minnesota Twins' spring training. Some of those are position battles. One such ‘battle’ fans will be playing close attention to in 2014 is one that was pretty big in 2013. Who will go into the 2014 season as the Twins starting centerfielder?

    Though you will likely read about this being a three man race for the job, it is likely really just between two players. That said, the player who may get the most attention at the position is a fourth option.

    LOOKING BACK


    Before we start thinking about 2014, let’s take a look back to one year ago. The Twins had traded Denard Span and Ben Revere. By the time of Twins Fest, the Twins' front office was touting Aaron Hicks as ready to take over. Sure, they also often said that Joe Benson, coming off micro-fracture surgery, and Darin Mastroianni would also be competing for the job. However, there was little to no question who would open the season as the Twins starting centerfielder.

    It was called a competition through spring training. Since it was called a competition there had to be a winner, and there was no question who won that challenge. Aaron Hicks hit like crazy in the very small sample size of spring training. In 73 at-bats, he hit .370/.407/.644 (1.051) with six doubles, a triple and four RBI. He also was three for three in stolen base attempts. Darin Mastroianni played pretty well too, but he entered the regular season with an ankle injury that cost him the majority of the year. Benson struggled, as was expected after missing much of the 2012 season. He hit just .151/.286/.283 (.569) with two doubles, a triple and a home run. After continued struggles, Benson was DFA'd and claimed by the Texas Rangers. He signed a minor league contract with the Miami Marlins this offseason.

    Of course, what fans remember much better than the spring training stats of Hicks are the numbers he put up in the regular season. He hit just .192/.259/.338 (.597) with 11 doubles, three triples and eight home runs. He certainly flashed some talent. How about the game against the White Sox when he stole a home run with his glove and hit a home run from both sides of the plate? Or, how about the throw in Yankees Stadium to nail a runner at third base? However, for the most part, it was a disappointing season for Hicks.

    In August, the Twins received Alex Presley from the Pirates in the Justin Morneau trade. He made 28 starts for the Twins to end the season and hit .283/.336/.363 (.699) with four doubles, a triple and a home run.

    Presley has struggled in parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Overall, he has played in 232 games and hit .264/.304/.411 (.715). In 733 minor league games, he has hit .292/.352/.437 (.789).

    LOOKING TO SPRING


    Let’s start with the obvious. Wilkin Ramirez is likely not in competition for the starting centerfield job. He may be competing for the 25th man on the roster, but it’s fair to say he won’t be the Twins starter. Also, Darin Mastroianni may be involved in the competition this spring, but ultimately, he’s fighting for a fourth (or fifth) outfield job after being designated for assignment during the offseason.

    The big question for Twins fans (and frankly, the front office) has to be; what does Aaron Hicks have to do this spring to win the centerfield job? Think about it. If he puts up the remarkable spring statistics he did a year ago, will he win the job? What are the intangibles that manager Ron Gardenhire will need to see for him to get the job. Hicks certainly has the potential and the tools to be a very good, all-round outfielder. He may never hit for average, but he has shown an ability to get on base. He does have extra base power. He plays tremendous defense and has a very strong arm. The Twins certainly have not given up on him.

    He gained ten pounds this offseason in an attempt to get stronger. He did not play winter ball which allowed him to clear his head and rest his body. He should come to camp strong. We know he will be either the Twins starting centerfielder or the Rochester Red Wings starting centerfielder. He will not be a backup at this stage of his career. The Twins brass need to determine what is best for him, long-term.

    However, the incumbent right now is Presley. Though he hasn’t shown a lot in the big leagues, his minor league career implies he could become a decent player. Specifically, he has shown an ability to get on base, and he has shown some extra- base pop. He is a solid defender, though certainly not in the class of Aaron Hicks. He probably profiles more as a fourth outfielder than a starter. That’s probably what he is with the Twins as well. He is likely the favorite for opening day starter, but at the end of the day, he is most likely a stop-gap. He is a place-holder maybe for Aaron Hicks who should come up sometime in 2014 and get another shot. He is also, in the big picture, a stop-gap till Byron Buxton arrives.

    Oh, Byron Buxton… He will also be at big league spring training this year. The consensus #1 prospect in all baseball is the talk of minor league baseball. The question with him is not IF, but WHEN. When will Buxton come up to the Twins, and just how great can be become. Of course, we also need to remember he has just a half-season of High-A ball under his belt. He is likely to start the season in New Britain, but a midseason promotion to the Twins is not out of the realm of possibility. In spring training, he will be looking to make an impression on the coaching staff.

    SUMMARY


    This will be an interesting competition to watch. As noted, I really believe it is a two-man race between last year’s opening day centerfielder (Aaron Hicks) and the incumbent for the job (Alex Presley). Ask yourself the question I did above: What do you think Aaron Hicks needs to do, or needs to show, to be the starting centerfielder? Presley is out of options, and he’s a solid outfielder, so he appears to be a shoo-in for the opening day roster, but should he be the starter? And, ultimately, how long will Twins fans have to wait for Byron Buxton. Buxton could force Hicks to a corner outfield spot and Presley to the role of backup outfielder again.

    How do you see this position battle playing out throughout the spring?
    Comments 61 Comments
    1. TC Stunner's Avatar
      TC Stunner -
      I think it should be Hicks in CF, Presley in LF and Arcia in RF and use Willingham as a DH only. They need his bat more than his mediocre fielding. Or Hicks in CF, Arcia in LF and Colabello, Parmelee or Ramirez in RF
    1. orangevening's Avatar
      orangevening -
      The bigger question maybe does Hicks starts with Twins or in AAA? They probably want him starting in AAA rather than backing up in majors.
    1. ND-Fan's Avatar
      ND-Fan -
      My bet is we see Hicks start at triple A for the season. We won't see Buxton until September call up. If Hicks starts to handle Triple A or there is injury then we will see Hicks with the Twins.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      If Hicks makes the Twins I don't think it will be as backup. I would say he needs to put up similar ST numbers to the ones he posted last year and then just hope he gets off to a better start in regular season. I also think Willingham is much better suited for DH but if Sano makes the team I can easily see a Plouffe, Kubel platoon at DH. I have a hard time getting excited about Pressley but if he can hit .283 and get on base a third of the time it would be a big improvement over Hicks start a year ago.
    1. Jdosen's Avatar
      Jdosen -
      I hope they cut bait with Wilkin. I'm sure he's got *some* value to someone in the right role, but I don't like the idea of him taking away at bats from younger guys who may (however unlikely) have a role on the next winning team.
    1. TC Stunner's Avatar
      TC Stunner -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      If Hicks makes the Twins I don't think it will be as backup. I would say he needs to put up similar ST numbers to the ones he posted last year and then just hope he gets off to a better start in regular season. I also think Willingham is much better suited for DH but if Sano makes the team I can easily see a Plouffe, Kubel platoon at DH. I have a hard time getting excited about Pressley but if he can hit .283 and get on base a third of the time it would be a big improvement over Hicks start a year ago.
      If Sano makes the team Id rather put Ploufe in the OF and have Willingham and Kubel DH. I don't want to see Willingham anywhere near the outfield. He's mediocre at best out there, he's getting up there in age and is injury prone. I still wish they traded Willingham after his killer first season with the Twins. He put up career numbers and his value was never gonna be higher.
    1. wagwan's Avatar
      wagwan -
      Hicks has potential tools that Presley can't match. I think if he hadn't started out 1 - 50, things would have been much different. Let him play. He should be in the Twins outfield for the next decade. He is Ben Revere in the field but with a cannon arm.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by orangevening View Post
      The bigger question maybe does Hicks starts with Twins or in AAA? They probably want him starting in AAA rather than backing up in majors.
      Absolutely. Hicks is still young enough and has a ton of potential that he needs to be playing. If I wasn't clear about that, I apologize.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Ask yourself the question I did above: What do you think Aaron Hicks needs to do, or needs to show, to be the starting centerfielder?
      I think that the question that needs to be asked is: Who will give the Twins a better possibility to win if the starting Centerfielder?

      To me Presley looks like a clone of the Thomases, Mastroiannis, Komatsus, Repkos, Pridies, Tyners et. al that Gardy and Terry for some reason like to have on the team so much, but in reality they are AAAA guys that should be used for PR and defense. Hicks can be special. In my mind there is no question who should start (or who will give the Twins the best probability of winning...)

      They already do not have a bat at SS, looks like they might opt for not having one at C, if they don't have one at CF, we might be looking at another long season, despite the rotation improvement...
    1. dakotanative's Avatar
      dakotanative -
      I remember well the struggles Tori Hunter went through before he finally stuck in the show. Hicks ability to have good at bats deteriorated as he struggled with MLB Pitching. If I was the manager I would be looking for increased maturity as a hitter from him. I would also be looking for better routes being taken to the ball and be seeing fewer spectacular plays that are the result of poor fundamentals. Finally I would also be looking for him separating his hitting from his fielding. In other words not allowing mistakes to carry over from one part of his game to the other. If he does this and the Twins see him and Presley on the same field he will win the starting job. Hicks hitting .260 with a .320 OB and .410 slugging is more valuable than Presley.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      [QUOTE;]What do you think Aaron Hicks needs to do, or needs to show, to be the starting centerfielder?[/QUOTE]

      After the goose egg he laid last season I think he has to have a spring as good or better than last year AND Pressley would need to play poorly or get hurt if order for Hicks to be the starting centerfielder on opening day.

      Let the natural progression take place. Let him go down to AAA and prove that he's ready, get some confidence, someone on the big league club will get hurt by May 15, bring him up then. Or by June 1 Parmalee or Ploufe or Willingham will prove that they have trade value or should be dumped, do it, and then bring Hicks up.

      When he does come up, keep him out of the leadoff spot in the lineup, let him bat eighth, get some confidence that he CAN hit big league pitching. He proved last year that it’s a big jump to the big leagues, bring him along slower, let him get some confidence.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      There isn't any competition for the starting CF job--it's Presley. His only competition was Mastroianni--and he was DFA'd. Hicks--he goes to Rochester. I expect an early trip for Hicks to the minor league training camp. Hicks will spend months at Rochester--and maybe all year. It depends on the performances of Presley and Arcia as well as for Hicks. This year I expect to see veterans up-and-down the active roster--the youth "had better get after it"--or else its back to Rochester.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Presley is what he is, Mastroianni (if healthy) is what he is. They are both fourth OFs capable of playing center field. Hicks has the tools to be very good and earn a job as a center fielder somewhere. The performance was bad last year and all but guarantees him a trip to Rochester to start the season. I expect him up by Memorial Day and I hope he establishes himself to be a major league hitter and plus defender. Presley starts the season in center leading off, but is supplanted pretty early.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      I'm with Thrylos on this one, but I don't know if the Twins are. If they want to have any chance at being competitive this year, they need the matured version of Aaron Hicks. Presley's ceiling isn't high enough with the other holes in our lineup. His floor also isn't as low as Hicks's would appear to be, so I suspect they'll play it safe and go with Presley anyway.

      Personally, I can understand the logic that he should start at AAA and earn his way up, but I'd rather see the team playing for the terrific future than playing for the mediocre now. I'd keep Hicks and Presley on the roster and cut ties with Mastro (and I say that as a fan of Mastro's from his 2012 season). Give Hicks all the starts against lefties, and maybe split the starts against righties between Hicks and Presley, but make sure that Hicks is getting playing time in the majors to start the season.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      I honestly don't even think it should be a competition. Give the job to Hicks and go. It took Torii Hunter playing with the MLB team a bunch before he ever figured out how to hit (never was much of a hitter anywhere in the minors until AAA when he already had 140+ MLB games under his belt). I think the same will play out here, as has been demonstrated by Hicks' path through the minors. It takes him some time to get accustomed to the pitching, then he's just fine.

      All the other options are nothing but AAAA or bench 4th outfielders. To me, there is absolutely zero point to giving them the job on a team that is still going to be relatively bad, you're not gaining anything by doing so. Sure, they may put up a better batting line for a while, but there is no potential even close to what Hicks brings for the long term, which is where they should be looking.

      I love the comment "I'd rather see the team playing for the terrific future than playing for the mediocre now." from above. I agree 100%.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I like competition. Add in Buxton breathing down everyone's neck and I think all 3 will bring their A game. Will be fun to watch play out.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Mastro and Presley are 4th OF at best. However, one will open the season as the starting CF while we wait for Buxton. Put Hicks at Rochester and let him play every day (I would have him play RF cause that's where he will be playing in 2015 in Target Field.) If Hicks is doing well at Rochester around memorial day, bring him up but play him, don't let him get splinters from the pine. If he isn't doing well, give him the year at Rochester.
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      I'll be surprised if Hicks doesn't stay in AAA at least until May/June. That said I'll be surprised if he's not up by July.

      It's not like he's learned all he can there, in fact I would argue he has a lot to learn there. He dominated AA but has very little AAA experience. Hopefully it will do him some good to get a little success there and he can come up with a bit more confidence.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      I honestly don't even think it should be a competition. Give the job to Hicks and go. It took Torii Hunter playing with the MLB team a bunch before he ever figured out how to hit (never was much of a hitter anywhere in the minors until AAA when he already had 140+ MLB games under his belt). I think the same will play out here, as has been demonstrated by Hicks' path through the minors. It takes him some time to get accustomed to the pitching, then he's just fine.

      All the other options are nothing but AAAA or bench 4th outfielders. To me, there is absolutely zero point to giving them the job on a team that is still going to be relatively bad, you're not gaining anything by doing so. Sure, they may put up a better batting line for a while, but there is no potential even close to what Hicks brings for the long term, which is where they should be looking.

      I love the comment "I'd rather see the team playing for the terrific future than playing for the mediocre now." from above. I agree 100%.
      This is good. I don't think there really should be any competition either. Getting some proper MLB seasoning this year Hicks, Arcia, and Pinto so 2015 is not just the unseasoned youth movement with Buxton, Rosario, and Santana. Presley is a solid improvement . . . . over the 4th OFs in recent memory. I do like the idea of Presley getting some time in LF and letting Willingham DH.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Presley showed in the minors that he's a pretty decent hitter. It hasn't translated to the majors, but when I saw him play in Indy, he was quite good. I get that it doesn't necessarily translate but given that the Twins won't be competing, I think they give Presley an extended look in the majors to prove he belongs, at which point he's probably traded for something a lot better than an aging Morneau. Otherwise, he's a 4th OF, and I'm fine with that too.

      I think Hicks shoudl be put in AAA. I don't care of he hits .800 in ST with a homerun every game. He did quite well last year and did not do well once the season began. I'd rather him play against easier competition and master that and then promote him once he's earned it.
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