Twins outfield prospect Joe Benson

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file


Benson is eager to put '12 season behind him

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III and PHIL MILLER
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • January 28, 2013 - 6:34 AM

Outfielder Joe Benson flashed a wide grin as he talked about his chances of making the Twins in 2013.

"I can't even begin to describe how excited I am, going from the worst summer athletically of my entire life to kind of getting a second chance and getting a crack at it. I can't wait for the first day of spring training."

Benson entered 2012 as a prospect on the rise, but it turned out to be a lost season. He batted .179 in 28 games at Class AAA Rochester before being demoted to Class AA New Britain, where he batted .184.

Then there were the injuries. He broke his left wrist and missed six weeks. In August, he came down with a knee injury. Doctors went in looking to do a routine cleanup but ended up performing microfracture surgery. He was shut down for three months.

Apparently healthy, Benson, 24, is eager to regain his status as one of the Twins' better prospects. He is a center field candidate along with Aaron Hicks and Darin Mastroianni and probably has the most to prove. He's built like a running back, has good speed and can hit the ball a long way but needs to make more contact.

"We're gonna clean the slate," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "He's 100 percent. He's a talented kid. I think he's maturing and starting to figure out that opportunities are here and he should take advantage."

It's going to be a crowded camp

The Twins are bringing 66 players to camp this year. Can a team ever bring too many players?

"I don't think we ever have too many," Ryan said. "We are going to lose some of them to the World Baseball Classic [in March]. The camp is so long we want to make sure that by the time we leave in March that we have peaked instead of guys being burned out."

And the Twins appear willing to push their camp roster up another one or two players. They are monitoring the free agent market to see if some players will lower their demands as spring approaches.

One indication that the market could be changing is that former Twin Delmon Young signed with Philadelphia for $750,000 after making $6.75 million last season with Detroit. Young can earn up to $600,000 more if he maintains a certain weight.

Nationals were careful with Meyer

Stephen Strasburg isn't the only pitcher the Nationals shut down last fall. Alex Meyer, pitching for Washington's Class A Potomac team, was told to take the last couple of weeks off, too. Now the Twins will benefit from the Nationals' caution.

"When I finished last year, I had thrown 129 innings, but I felt strong finishing up," said Meyer, the hard-throwing righthander acquired for Denard Span in November. "I haven't been told anything" about this season.

That includes where he'll play -- the former first-round pick is already 23, having spent three seasons at the University of Kentucky, so the Twins could logically start him at Class AA New Britain. Wherever he goes, Meyer hopes to expand a repertoire that's mostly two-seam fastballs right now. "The main thing I'm working on this winter is developing a changeup," he said. "I'm working on it as much as I can."

When he's not throwing, Meyer, who is a semester or two short of a degree in agricultural development, is working as a substitute teacher in his hometown of Greenburg, Ind., a small farm community roughly halfway between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. He said he has taught at every level from kindergarten to high school.

Are the preschoolers impressed that he's a pro ballplayer?

"I don't think they understand that," the 6-foot-9 Meyer said. "The thing they care about is how tall I am."

Gibson works on changing speeds

Kyle Gibson is slowly adding velocity to his fastball as he recovers from Tommy John elbow surgery. But he wants to subtract some velocity, too.

Gibson, considered a likely candidate to earn a spot in the Twins rotation, said he has found it difficult so far to change speeds.

"My changeup is anywhere from 82-85 [mph], so it's pretty close to my fastball," which is slowly climbing back into the low 90s, Gibson said. "With my slider at 84-87, that's not enough speed difference."

Attendance down

So how does losing affect TwinsFest? The club estimated that about 25,000 fans attended TwinsFest this year, down around 6,000 from the 2012 event.

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