Competition for Twins' center field job not encouraging

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2014 - 7:09 AM

The Twins’ center field job is open — for this year, anyway — as young players struggle in camp.

– At this time last March, the three-way competition to be the Twins’ center fielder was already over. Aaron Hicks impressed the Twins from the first day of camp, racked up four home runs and a batting average near .400 by March 7, and seized a major league job without ever spending a day at Class AAA.

The job is up for grabs again this spring, but there is no runaway winner this time. And wow, the Twins sure wish there was.

“No, I don’t think anyone has separated themselves, or helped us make that decision at all yet,” said assistant GM Rob Antony, who along with manager Ron Gardenhire will decide which of four candidates to take north in a little more than two weeks. “You’d always like the players to determine it for you. It’s a little tougher if nobody separates themselves, [merely] does fine but not great. But we haven’t seen anything yet to say anyone is in front.”

With 19 more spring games remaining, there is still plenty of time for the four candidates — Hicks, trying to rebound from a rough rookie campaign, now-healthy Darin Mastroianni, newcomer Alex Presley and long shot Jermaine Mitchell — to make the decision easy for Gardenhire and Antony, and it’s a little unfair to draw any conclusions while players are rarely in the lineup more than one day in a row. But the only center fielder to ignite any fervor in Twins camp so far this spring is the one who wasn’t allowed to enter the competition: Byron Buxton, the 20-year-old phenom who was sent to minor league camp Sunday.

Buxton hit only .158, going 3-for-19, but hit a long home run in his final game and consistently flashed the tools that made him baseball’s top prospect and the early favorite for next year’s center field competition. But with no experience above Class A, and following Hicks’ difficulties in making a big jump, there was never a chance the Twins would give Buxton anything more than a taste of his future.

It must have been tempting, though, because the Twins’ three main contenders for center field are batting a combined .196 (9-for-46) with zero extra-base hits so far in Grapefruit League play.

Mitchell, a 29-year-old journeyman who has spent the past four seasons in Class AAA, is 5-for-10 with a double and a home run this spring, but he is considered organizational depth rather than a likely starter. (Of course, the same could have been said for Clete Thomas a year ago, and he ended up starting 48 games in center for the Twins.) Also a long-shot possibility: veteran Wilkin Ramirez, who has played very little center field over his career.

The candidates themselves, though, don’t sound worried.

“You can look at stats if you want, but I haven’t even had 20 at-bats yet. People here know what I can do. For me, it’s just a matter of getting ready,” said Presley, 28, acquired from Pittsburgh in the Justin Morneau trade last August. Unlike Mastroianni and Hicks, Presley is out of options and would have to pass through waivers in order to be sent to the minors.

Mastroianni, too, is focused on himself and not on his competitors. “I haven’t even thought about it, to be honest. I’m thinking about making sure I’m healthy,” said the 28-year-old, who broke his ankle in the final week of training camp last March, eventually underwent surgery and appeared in only 30 games. “The results haven’t been great yet, but I feel fantastic. My ankle has responded very well, and that’s the most important thing.”

Hicks, 24, has missed the past week because of tightness in his right elbow and has been limited to nine at-bats, or less than a third of what he accounted for at this point last year. The switch hitter, who led the Twins in hits, homers and RBI last spring, is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday.

The competition is particularly visible and critical because the winner, sure to be a speedy fielder with limited power, is also the most likely candidate to lead off for the Twins. Gardenhire, however, made it clear Tuesday he is prepared to find a different leadoff hitter if necessary.

“I could put [second baseman Brian] Dozier up there. [Catcher Kurt] Suzuki can lead off. I can do different things,” Gardenhire said. “You hopefully will have one of those guys, but there’s no guarantee. If it doesn’t look like it works out too well, I’ll go another route.”

But first, they have to decide who’s playing the position that Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter and Denard Span once manned. That might take a while.

“I don’t think anything’s going to be settled until the last week,” Antony said.





 

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions
Final123456789RHE
Minnesota0000101002100
Baltimore «00010110X381
@Ballpark Replay
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
W:A.Miller(5-5) L:J.Burton(2-3) S:Z.Britton (30)
HR: MIN- None BAL- J.Paredes (1)

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland - WP: J. Tomlin 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: S. Downs 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 13
Los Angeles - LP: J. Wright 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Stauffer 2
Milwaukee - LP: M. Fiers 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Peavy 3
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: Y. Herrera 2
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 3 FINAL
Seattle - LP: R. Elias 1
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 4th Qtr 9:41
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
(25) Washington 17 3rd Qtr
Hawaii 10
South Dakota 13 2nd Qtr 1:09
(3) Oregon 35
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 2nd Half 15:00
San Jose 1
Portland 2 2nd Half 15:00
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How sure are you that the Twins are on the road to improving?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close