Between 1984 and now there’s been two very prominent players patrolling center field for the Minnesota Twins: Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter. Sure there were a couple of odd balls thrown in between Kirby and Torii, but those two are the face of the Twins center field.
In recent history the Twins have run out some names that fans thought might join that elusive two-some: Carlos Gomez came in the Johan Santana trade but eventually had to Go-Go to Milwaukee. Denard Span looked promising until Ben Revere came along and then opportunity presented itself and now the Twins have no obvious center fielder.
Three candidates have emerged to take that center field job: Darin Mastroianni, Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson.
Two of those have major league experience: Mastroianni and Benson.
One had playing time at the major league level in 2012: Mastroianni.
Darin Mastroianni has appeared in 78 ballgames at the major league level compared to Benson’s 21 in his September call-up in the 2011 season.
Let’s eliminate Joe Benson from the competition right away.
Benson had a horrid season in 2012. He played 37 games at Double-A New Britain with a batting average of .184 and he played 28 games at Triple-A Rochester with a batting average of .179. Between the two stops he had 28 RBI.
The 24-year-old has dropped out of Baseball America’s prospect rankings in 2013 after being 100 and 99 the past two seasons.
Joe Benson had an injury-plagued season in 2012 which may have affected his stats, but unless he absolutely tears up spring training, I doubt Benson will be starting in center at Target Field come April 1.
That leaves two: Darin Mastroianni and Aaron Hicks.
Many believe that Aaron Hicks is the center fielder of the future for the Twins, and I am in that boat. Last year Hicks played 129 games at Double-A New Britain and put up some good stats: .286 batting average, 61 RBI, 13 home runs, 11 triples and 32 stolen bases.
Hicks is good. He’s ranked number 72 on Baseball America’s top prospect list, but the highest he’s played at is Double-A. Not many make the leap from Double-A to full time starting gig in the bigs, especially with the Twins who are known to really develop their prospects and not throw them into the fire too early.
It would make sense that the center fielder of the future should get the job, but the penny-pinching ways of the Twins will get in the way of that.
There is a good possibility that the Twins may deny Hicks the job so they can push back his arbitration eligibility a year. In this payroll-dominated world, the move does make sense.
That leaves Darin Mastroianni as the man with the job in center field, which is not a bad choice.
Mastroianni has the most experience of the three; that being said, all of that experience (excluding one game with the Blue Jays in 2011) came last season with the Twins.
In the 77 games Darin Mastroianni played last year he hit .252 with 21 stolen bases. Those 21 stolen bases was good for second on the team behind Ben Revere.
Mastroianni is very fast and many believe he’s best suited as a major league team's fourth outfielder, which he eventually will be.
Who should be the Opening Day starter in center?
Darin Mastroianni will be the Twins Opening Day starting center fielder and will hold that position for a couple months until Aaron Hicks gets some playing time at Triple-A under his belt.
So the starting outfield for the Twins will be: Josh Willingham, Darin Mastroianni and Chris Parmelee with Ryan Doumit being the fourth outfielder for the opening months of 2013.
Three other Twins have outfield experience: Jamey Carroll, Trevor Plouffe and the infamous one-game right field appearance of Joe Mauer.
Even though Darin Mastroianni will start the season in center, Aaron Hicks has the real shot of being a part of that great Twins center field fraternity.