• It's All Good in the Outfield

    Last year, Minnesota's outfield was a mess. Among players who put in significant time at an OF spot, only Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel posted an OPS over .700, and neither appeared in more than 77 games as on outfielder (Cuddyer due to Justin Morneau's injury, Kubel due to his own). This, along with Denard Span's costly injury, left a lot of at-bats for the likes of Delmon Young, Jason Repko, Rene Tosoni and a rookie Ben Revere, all of whom struggled mightily.

    This year has produced a rather dramatic turnaround, as the Twins' outfield has been one of the most stable and successful in memory.

    Josh Willingham has started 92 of a possible 110 games in left field. Though his defense has been suspect, his bat has more than made up for it as he's having a more productive season than Cuddyer or Kubel ever had here. One can easily argue that the slugger will be unable to maintain this performance throughout his contract, but the fact that he's showing absolutely zero signs of age at 33 cannot be viewed as anything other than an enormous positive. Additionally, the two guys next to Willingham have helped overshadow his deficiencies with the glove.

    One of those guys is Denard Span, who has started 97 of 110 games in center. He's not the elite top-of-the-order bat he once was, but the 28-year-old has been a durable, complete player. While he hasn't been spectacular in any area (except possibly defense), he's been very solid all-around and a quality leadoff man. Most importantly, his concussion issues from last year have rarely even been referenced this summer.

    Then there's Ben Revere, whose improvement is rather astounding. At age 24, he's already fulfilling his promise. As a guy who doesn't walk much or collect many extra-base hits, he needs to hit well over .300 and play stellar defense to be a truly valuable asset. Right now he's doing just that. Considering his skill set and the .326 average posted during his rapid assent through the minors, there's no reason to think he can't do it consistently for many years to come.

    I haven't even mentioned Darin Mastroianni, who is establishing himself as an ideal fourth outfielder with his rangy defense and elite base running skills.

    The great part about these players is that they're all under team control through at least 2015. The better part is that an infusion of excellent young outfield talent namely Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks is rapidly approaching the majors. Assuming those two continue to develop, the Twins will have a pleasant problem on their hands with an overload of quality outfielders.

    There have been a number of quirky things about this 2012 season. The fact that the Twins have managed to vastly improve their outlook in the outfield despite losing their two top producers to free agency surely must be viewed as one of the most enjoyable.
    This article was originally published in blog: It's All Good in the Outfield started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. Twins best friend's Avatar
      Twins best friend -
      I'm not sure if I ever would have classified Span as an "elite" top of the order bat but i would definitely call him an above-average offensive and defensive player. The solid production from Revere and the strong seasons Hicks and Arcia are having in AA really have me feeling optimistic about the Twins future. I'm excited everyday to see what those two produce. Any chance either would be a candidate for a September call-up? I realize that the Rock Cats are in the playoff race and that Arcia started the year in Ft. Myers but should the get a debut in another lost year for the Twins?
    1. CK's Avatar
      CK -
      How close are the Rock Cats to securing a playoff bid? I'd like to see Hicks get as much time as possible and play in AA post-season. And maybe avoid what happened to Benson last year (overmatched). Thoughts?
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      The Rock Cats are in second place in their division in have a 1.5 game lead over the third place team (the top two teams in each division go to the playoffs).
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Twins best friend View Post
      I'm not sure if I ever would have classified Span as an "elite" top of the order bat but i would definitely call him an above-average offensive and defensive player.
      Span had two pretty elite seasons. Any time your leadoff guy is getting on base 39% of the time, posts an OPS+ over 120, and plays above average up-the-middle defense, that's pretty elite. You can argue that his 2009 campaign wasn't elite due to his defensive slide but his 2008 was definitely elite, as he posted over a 4 WAR in 400 ABs.

      It's unfortunate that it doesn't look like he'll ever be that player again.
    1. DPJ's Avatar
      DPJ -
      Quote Originally Posted by rocketpig View Post
      Span had two pretty elite seasons. Any time your leadoff guy is getting on base 39% of the time, posts an OPS+ over 120, and plays above average up-the-middle defense, that's pretty elite. You can argue that his 2009 campaign wasn't elite due to his defensive slide but his 2008 was definitely elite, as he posted over a 4 WAR in 400 ABs.

      It's unfortunate that it doesn't look like he'll ever be that player again.
      Metrodome Span was elite...TF Span is just pretty good.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by DPJ View Post
      Metrodome Span was elite...TF Span is just pretty good.
      Road Span looks like Rich Becker.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by DPJ View Post
      Metrodome Span was elite...TF Span is just pretty good.
      Yep. Even though he's posting stupid home/road splits, I think TF has hurt him more than most.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Target Field Span is an All-Star. Road Span is Rich Becker. How can you say that Target Field has hurt Span when he has hit great there all three years? Span's home/road split in OPS since 2010: .761 H .602 R in 2010 .728 H .660 R in 2011 and .937 H and .545 R this year.
    1. DPJ's Avatar
      DPJ -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Yep. Even though he's posting stupid home/road splits, I think TF has hurt him more than most.
      Metrodome OPS .863
      Target Field OPS .688

      I don't know if it was the turf or whatever, but Metrodome Span was a 4 win player.

      I'd love to see that return.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      Target Field Span is an All-Star. Road Span is Rich Becker. How can you say that Target Field has hurt Span when he has hit great there all three years? Span's home/road split in OPS since 2010: .761 H .602 R in 2010 .728 H .660 R in 2011 and .937 H and .545 R this year.
      I think he's had to change his play to accomodate TF. He was on track to become a 10-12 homer player in the dome and that number was crushed with the move to TF. I think that change of style has been a cause of his pretty bad road splits. There's nothing about Target Field that makes Span a better offensive player while there's a lot to dislike about the park as a lefty.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      For me, the exciting thing about the current (and future) outfield is the ground they can cover. With pitchers that don't miss a lot of bats and generous power alleys at TF, that's critical. I never understood the rationale for trading Hardy before 2011 being a supposed desire to improve team speed on offense to take advantage of the expansive outfield at TF, while at the same time doing nothing about the lack of any speed at all in either corner OF position defensively.

      Having Span and Revere both in the line up has certainly helped the team offensively, but having them both in the OF has been just as critical to the Twins improvement since mid May. If a Benson or Hicks becomes MLB-ready, that's great. But if not, I'm sorry, but I just can't get excited about a Willingham-Revere-Parmelee outfield defensively.
    1. minn55441's Avatar
      minn55441 -
      Like the element of speed in our lineup that we haven't had in years past. Punto and the piranha's are nothing compared to what Revere and Masty have done on the bases. Every time they get on base, you know something is going to happen. They put pressure on the opposing defense. I really like our blend of speed and power. It is mainly brought by our 3 outfield positions.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      For me, the exciting thing about the current (and future) outfield is the ground they can cover. With pitchers that don't miss a lot of bats and generous power alleys at TF, that's critical. I never understood the rationale for trading Hardy before 2011 being a supposed desire to improve team speed on offense to take advantage of the expansive outfield at TF, while at the same time doing nothing about the lack of any speed at all in either corner OF position defensively.

      Having Span and Revere both in the line up has certainly helped the team offensively, but having them both in the OF has been just as critical to the Twins improvement since mid May. If a Benson or Hicks becomes MLB-ready, that's great. But if not, I'm sorry, but I just can't get excited about a Willingham-Revere-Parmelee outfield defensively.
      Exactly. I want nothing to do with Parmelee in the OF. Please no.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      Having Span and Revere both in the line up has certainly helped the team offensively, but having them both in the OF has been just as critical to the Twins improvement since mid May. If a Benson or Hicks becomes MLB-ready, that's great. But if not, I'm sorry, but I just can't get excited about a Willingham-Revere-Parmelee outfield defensively.
      Agreed. Willingham will only get slower next year. I think it would be very exciting if, in 2014, the OF line up included 2 or 3 of the outfielders from New Britain's current lineup. I look forward to Parmalee being a regular bat in the lineup but surely there is very good reason why he has not played more outfield in his career.
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      Hopeful 2014 lineup (with Gardy out there may be some platooning):

      C- Joe Mauer/Ryan Doumit
      1B - Chris Parmalee/Mauer
      2B - Eddie Rosario
      SS - Who knows??? Niko Goodrum/Brian Dozier/Levi Michael/FA
      3B - Trevor Plouffe
      RF - Aaron Hicks
      CF - Ben Revere
      LF - Oswaldo Arcia/Joe Benson/Willingham
      DH -Josh Willingham/Doumit

      Seems promising in most areas. Plus, Sano should be on his way shortly after 2014 begins and maybe Buxton early 2015. Span and Morneau are moved for in the 2014 and 2013 offseasons for pitching....

      ...and then I woke up and Gardy is still here and the Twins re-sign Blackburn to a two year extension.
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      I think we should note that Willingham, according to UZR, has cost the Twins less than four runs compared to the average left fielder. He's about average per that metric.

      I think our perception of him as worse than that is because he's bad at something it doesn't measure - picking up balls on the ground. But he's not bad at getting to balls in the air, which is probably a more valuable skill. That costs outs AND bases, whereas not picking up a ball cleanly just costs bases.
    1. DPJ's Avatar
      DPJ -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Bonnes View Post
      I think we should note that Willingham, according to UZR, has cost the Twins less than four runs compared to the average left fielder. He's about average per that metric.
      I hate UZR and most defensive metrics.

      When it doubt go to the eye test and my eye says Willingham is a brutal defender...but as long as he hits you can live with it.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      I don't think anybody sees Parmelee as a long term solution at OF. It is more a solution to many short term problems the Twins have currently.

      1) Pitching- In order to acquire more pitching the Twins need to trade somebody. OF is a position of depth currently in the organization making players here logical trade bait.

      2) IF Span/Willingham get traded this offseason there will be a spot open in the OF until Hicks/Arcia/Benson are ready to fill it. The Twins aren't going to count on Hicks/Arcia/Benson being ready to fill that hole to start 2013. They might get looks in spring training but the Twins will need to have a plan in place incase none are ready to handle that position.

      3) Parmelee will be 25 before next season and has absolutely destroyed AAA. He seemingly has nothing left to learn at AAA AND he is a potential impact bat for the lineup. His natural position of 1B likely won't be open until the trade deadline 2013 (or Morneau gets re-signed in which case Parmelee is trade bait) so he needs to find another spot to make this team.

      You put those 3 together and Parmelee in RF for half a year makes sense.
    1. y2jjj54's Avatar
      y2jjj54 -
      I don't really understand why people are in such a hurry to get a spot open for Chris Parmelee. At best I see him being a Lyle Overbay type player. Which to me is a below average first baseman. I would rather extend Morneau for a reasonable deal.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Bonnes View Post
      I think we should note that Willingham, according to UZR, has cost the Twins less than four runs compared to the average left fielder. He's about average per that metric.

      I think our perception of him as worse than that is because he's bad at something it doesn't measure - picking up balls on the ground. But he's not bad at getting to balls in the air, which is probably a more valuable skill. That costs outs AND bases, whereas not picking up a ball cleanly just costs bases.
      I think there's some truth to this, John, but being even just a little below average (and certainly unlikely to get BETTER as he ages) in a roomy outfield like TF has can be problematic when combined with a pitching staff that doesn't miss bats. My point was that I don't want TWO OFs like that in the corners.

      I don't think Willingham is brutal (thanks to Delmon Young, I may never think another Twins OF ever meets that definition again). I certainly believe Willingham's bat (as long as it remains close to current productivity) is worth having his glove in one OF corner. I simply am not anxious to start seeing what seems like every ball hit in the general vacinity of an OF gap go for extra bases like last season (and this season, prior to Revere and Span consistently making up 2/3 of the OF).
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