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.
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* John is running a 5K organized by Glen and Alicia Perkins to raise money for cystic fibrosis. Please consider donating to this worthy cause.
* Parker dissects Justin Morneau's improvement against curveballs.
* Jim Crikket recaps his trip to Beloit to see some Twins minor-leaguers.