The Twins unveiled a new ballpark in 2010 with additional square yardage in the outfield, particularly in right-center. They then spent five seasons attempting to cover this added territory with substandard outfield play.
The Twins won 94 games and a division title in 2010, even with Delmon Young, Denard Span and Jason Kubel getting the most starts in left, center and right. Span was fine, Kubel was mediocre and Young was cover-your-eyes.
The Twins won 63 games in 2011 with a regular outfield of Young, Ben Revere and Michael Cuddyer. Revere could range and not throw; Cuddyer could throw and had average range.
The Twins won 66 games in 2012 with a regular outfield of Josh Willingham, Span and Revere (in right field). There were also desperate auditions with lads such as Erik Komatsu and Clete Thomas.
The Twins won 66 games again in 2013 with Willingham in left, rookie Aaron Hicks in center and Chris Parmelee or rookie Oswaldo Arcia in right.
The Twins won 70 games last season. Here were the outfielders who made 10 or more starts at a position in manager Ron Gardenhire's final season:
Left — Willingham 52 starts, Kubel 36, Jordan Schafer 34, Parmelee 22, Eduardo Nunez 16, Chris Herrmann 12 and Sam Fuld 10 (nine other starts).
Center — Danny Santana 62, Hicks 53 and Fuld 37 (10 other starts).
Right — Arcia 97, Parmelee 28 and Chris Colabello 17 (20 other starts).
Early in the schedule, Gardenhire gave a start in left to Jason Bartlett, his proposed super utility player. It was such a dangerous experience that Bartlett soon was announcing his retirement.
Gardenhire was fired at season's end. The front office did not provide much for new manager Paul Molitor to feel optimistic for improved outfield play.
Torii Hunter was brought in as a free agent to play right field. He was an improvement but also came in with a label from the analytics types as being a poor defender for Detroit in 2014.
The Twins were so desperate for an option to Hicks in center that they spent $1.55 million in arbitration to keep Schafer, who was fast but often took the long route to fly balls.
Hicks showed little at the plate in spring training and seemed to have regressed in the field. He went to Class AAA Rochester and Molitor opened the season with Arcia in left (ouch), Schafer in center (double ouch) and Hunter in right (good enough).
Shane Robinson was the best outfielder but an extra-type player. There were also two infielders — Eduardo Escobar and Nunez — to use in the outfield. They were faster versions of Willingham and Young.
A strange thing has happened: The home team's outfield play in Target Field has gone from a five-year liability to an asset.
It started on May 4 when Arcia was hurt once again and Eddie Rosario was called up from Rochester. General Manager Terry Ryan suggested it was a short-term promotion.
Right. Rosario probably won't be here more than another decade.
Another roster move was made on May 12, when Hicks was recalled from Rochester. He had gotten rolling there a couple of weeks into the season and earned his way back.
Once here, he wasn't hitting much, but his play in center was outstanding … significantly better than he showed in previous tests with the Twins.
Hicks was placed on the disabled list last weekend and the move was made to bring in the 21-year-old prospect, Byron Buxton, from Class AA Chattanooga. He hasn't hit at all, but for five weeks now — first with Hicks, now Buxton — the Twins have known this:
When a ball hangs in the air at all, it's going to be caught.
OK, Hicks dropped one that he had gloved in Texas, but one in five weeks … that's not bad for a team that spent five seasons averaging a handful of fly balls per week that should have been caught (and weren't).
In Friday's 7-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs, Buxton had no tough ones, but Escobar (yeah, even Eddie) made a good catch in left, and Rosario made a sliding catch and then ran down another drive in right field.
This is so alarming it belongs on ESPN's Breaking News crawl:
Twins Catching Fly Balls in Target Field.