• 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. blindeke's Avatar
      blindeke -
      If Hicks makes the Twins, what are the chances that Gardy sits him a bunch because he's not a veteran like Presley?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Presley is a decent stop gap and fourth outfielder. But he has little long-term value as a starter. Hicks might not be the starting center fielder next year, but he should get his chance this year. As some have said, how soon? My question is, why not on opening day?

      I don't think you look at history for your decision. You look at the present. Side by side, Hicks is the better player now and the much better player by the end of the year. If he's stronger, he could become the kind of corner outfielder next year that we haven't had since Shane Mack: Great range, arm and a power stick.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      I really want Hicks to be the starting CF. Especially with Willingham likely to play at least some OF and Arcia likely to be starting in RF. His defense will be needed even if his bat is still struggling. But I really like the idea of Willingham being the primary DH and guys like Kubel, Parmelee, and/or Presley getting most of those OF starts.

      I think Hicks can get the job. He's got the talent and after his horrific start did start putting together competent ABs during his time with the Twins. Let him work with Brunansky for the full season and play fantastic defnese for a team that has enough flyball pitchers that we'll need his range and arm.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Hicks isn't the future CF. Will he be adequate at a corner? We will have to wait and see. Please consider the oh-so-many top prospects the Twins have and then ask: "who stays?, who plays?, and who leaves? Guys are stacking-up in the minors and this must be the last year to indulge in the use of place-holders. I understand the FO taking steps to avoid another 90-game losing season, as well as the assuaging the manager with veteran-players. But they simply can't sing the same refrain about "the best minor league system"--and then not play them. There are very few who care about the W/L records at the affliates--they want to see the Twins win! The minor leagues can be left to their own devices.
    1. Macneil4025's Avatar
      Macneil4025 -
      Aaron Hicks needs to be at AAA, Presley can be a leadoff hitter, this will be the biggest advantage to him starting the season as the starter. If Presley isn't starting, who on this club can leadoff, nobody!! It's really this simple!
    1. MileHighTwinsFan's Avatar
      MileHighTwinsFan -
      Don't you want Hicks to step up grab the CF job by the throat? Anything short of that and you have to believe that he is on the outside looking in on their long term plans. With Buxton and potentially Rosario no more than a year away, he has to prove he is a major league player now. If he doesn't make the club, he better rake in AAA and be up no later than June. Anything less and it may be time to start looking elsewhere.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      what are our choices?look to win 74 games with Veterans who wont be here in a year or 2, or develope our kids and win 60 games and see who is part of the future and who isint? Isint that part of rebuilding? 1 of my questions I have for this off season .... where are our new Magic beans?where are our new Meyers and May? Are we done rebuilding, do we have ALL the pieces to the future? then why havent we added any this off season?

      So I say if hicks is hitting this spring bring him north and let him play , either he does well and stays, or we end up using presley and send the kid back to AAA,either way we see if he is ready and he gains experience
    1. strumdatjag's Avatar
      strumdatjag -
      When Buxton takes over CF, and presuming Hicks is worthy, then is Hicks better suited for LF (to take advantage of his speed in covering more ground) or RF (to take advantage of his arm)???????????
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by strumdatjag View Post
      When Buxton takes over CF, and presuming Hicks is worthy, then is Hicks better suited for LF (to take advantage of his speed in covering more ground) or RF (to take advantage of his arm)???????????
      I think it depends on the other options. If Arcia is the 3rd OF, I'd want Hicks in LF to cover more space... plus, Arcia has a strong arm. If Rosario is the third OF, I would want Hicks in RF because of his arm, but also because Rosario would have very good range.

      Clear as mud?
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      Aaron Hicks should start in AAA, when he proves he can hit there then bring him up. His defense is ready, but his bat is lagging behind. I wonder if he'll continue to switch hit despite his terrible splits.
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      I believe that the best reason to start Hicks in AAA is to get him confident in himself. A lot of AAA pitchers have been in MLB. He hits them and he should be confident he can hit MLB pitching.

      When he is back in the major leagues I want him to succeed!
    1. MileHighTwinsFan's Avatar
      MileHighTwinsFan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oldgoat_MN View Post
      I believe that the best reason to start Hicks in AAA is to get him confident in himself. A lot of AAA pitchers have been in MLB. He hits them and he should be confident he can hit MLB pitching.

      When he is back in the major leagues I want him to succeed!
      Why all the handholding? If he is a major leaguer, he needs to start playing with confidence and smarts now. We know he has the baseball IQ, he needs to play with confidence and resolve. There is little to gain from a stint at AAA.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Macneil4025 View Post
      Aaron Hicks needs to be at AAA, Presley can be a leadoff hitter, this will be the biggest advantage to him starting the season as the starter. If Presley isn't starting, who on this club can leadoff, nobody!! It's really this simple!
      There are arguably 6-8 spots in the batting order where the twins are lacking so who bats lead off is only the beginning of their troubles. I'd start Hicks in CF but would not bat him lead off. He's got talent just needs to catch a few breaks and build some confidence.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      I want Hicks in CF batting 8th. Presley would be the 4th OF (backup CF against good RHP, defensive sub for Willingham). Dozier can leadoff and Mauer #2 until/if Hicks shows he can slide up. I agree that Hicks needs to show he can play this year before Buxton pushes him aside.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      My preference isn't Presley, but I'm sure he will be the starter. I would start Hicks, but given how the roster was built for ST, I believe things will be veteran-friendly. The plan is to avoid losing 90 games and that's why lots of money was spent on FA pitchers and guys like Kubel, Bartlett and Suzuki were added. Veterans, guys "who have won before", guys who will "get after it", you get my drift.
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      I think we should do whatever is best for Hick's development, whatever that might be. My preference would be to watch him play as I don't care for AP. However, he has been a slow starter so it might be best to start him in Rochester. IMO ... This whole season needs to be about team development and asset management. I could care less if we win 75 vs 72 games if the team progresses toward a much better team in 2015.
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      Quote Originally Posted by MileHighTwinsFan View Post
      Why all the handholding? If he is a major leaguer, he needs to start playing with confidence and smarts now. We know he has the baseball IQ, he needs to play with confidence and resolve. There is little to gain from a stint at AAA.
      Its not hand holding, its development. We all want Hicks to be our centerfielder but the real question is what is best for his development? I see no harm in letting him build some confidence in AAA and bring him up as soon as he shows that he is a competent hitter at the AAA level.
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I think it depends on the other options. If Arcia is the 3rd OF, I'd want Hicks in LF to cover more space... plus, Arcia has a strong arm. If Rosario is the third OF, I would want Hicks in RF because of his arm, but also because Rosario would have very good range.

      Clear as mud?
      I agree with this scenario if they keep him. I still believe, however, that if he proves to be a solid centerfielder, the Twins should trade him. As we saw with Span and Revere, good centerfielders are valuable commodities - much more so than corner outfielders.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Quote Originally Posted by Linus View Post
      I agree with this scenario if they keep him. I still believe, however, that if he proves to be a solid centerfielder, the Twins should trade him. As we saw with Span and Revere, good centerfielders are valuable commodities - much more so than corner outfielders.
      Yep. Aaron Hicks would seem to be a CF where all five tools project to average or better and a switch hitter. If he puts a good 3/4 season in, he will be very valuable and if Buxton continues his development, very expendible. Much like trading a very good catcher (AJ) because Mauer was on the horizon, I think this is the best possible scenario for the Twins. Perhaps they would get the near major league ready SS or another stud pitching prospect or both.
    1. Lonestar's Avatar
      Lonestar -
      Quote Originally Posted by ericchri View Post
      I'd rather see the team playing for the terrific future than playing for the mediocre now.
      That resonates because that is what we all want. We just differ as to how to play for the future.

      Some would say if we were playing for the future last year, Hicks would have started the year in AAA. Many of us would not have subjected Hicks to so much futility in the majors last year -- that is, demoted him earlier.

      I put no stock in Spring Training small sample size. I would send Hicks to AAA because that's what his track record indicates. I'm guessing the Twins decision will be based on the health and spring trainings of Presley and Mastro. Then again, Mastro is not on the 40-man roster.

      Depending on the nature of his call up, I would start him 50-90% of the time. I would bat him 9th because I think he will be a better hitter than Florimon and would rather have him batting before the top of the order. He might become a lead off hitter or a #6 or #7 hole hitter.

      We'll see what his future is. Is he more like Jaque Jones or Ben Revere or Torii Hunter or Joe Benson?
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