Twins Center Fielders: A Gap-to-Gap Legacy

The 2012 Minnesota Twins really only had one position of depth.  That position was center field, whom they boasted of Denard Span, Ben Revere, and a pretty solid third option in Darin Mastroianni.  By the time the winter meetings were over, one of Twins’ fans biggest question quickly became “Who is going to play center field?”  Overall, the position still has good depth, with Mastroianni, Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson, and young Byron Buxton still in the organization.  Out of those five guys, however, a major league-ready center fielder seems to be missing.

With the exception of a five year span between 1994-1998, the position has been held by some of the best center fielders in the game since 1984 when Kirby Puckett took over.  Torii Hunter took over in 1999, and more recently Carlos Gomez, Denard Span, and Ben Revere held down the fort until 2013.  Gold Gloves and all-star type production offensively have become the expectation out of that position, and it has really become somewhat of a legacy of center fielders within the organization.  Puckett won 6 Gold Gloves; Hunter won 7 in his time with the Twins; and Gomez, Span, and Revere certainly didn’t disappoint us in the 5 years since #48.  Offensively, Puckett hit .318 in his career with the Twins,  Hunter hit .271, Span .284, and Revere .278.

Needless to say, 2013 is setting up to be somewhat of a let-down for Twins fans who are used to the CF position being one of absolute strength on this roster.  Although most of us are at least somewhat excited for the future arrival of Aaron Hicks, it doesn’t seem he will be quite ready for Opening Day when the defending AL Champion Detroit Tigers visit Target Field.  Hicks struggled mightily in 2011 at High A Fort Myers, hitting .242/.354/.368.  As you can see below, the young center fielder really struggled to put the ball in play consistently, striking out 338 times in the last 3 years.  Only a 23 year old, Hicks made significant strides last season at AA New Britain, increasing his hitting, power, and baserunning numbers.  The future is bright for Aaron Hicks, but again, that future with the Twins wouldn’t seem like it will start Opening Day 2013.

2010 20 Beloit MIDW A MIN 115 423 86 118 27 6 8 49 21 11 88 112 .279 .401 .428 .829
2011 21 Fort Myers FLOR A+ MIN 122 443 79 107 31 5 5 38 17 9 78 110 .242 .354 .368 .722
2012 22 New Britain EL AA MIN 129 472 100 135 21 11 13 61 32 11 79 116 .286 .384 .460 .844

Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Original Table

Generated 1/1/2013.

Opening Day 2013 will most likely feature 27 year old Darin Mastroianni roaming the gaps of Target Field.  Before last season, Mastroianni had made only one appearance in the majors with Toronto, making 3 plate appearances.  In 77 games with the Twins last season, after starting in AA New Britain and working his way up to the bigs, he proved to be a solid fill-in to give Span and Revere a break.

2011 25 TOR AL 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
2012 26 MIN AL 77 163 22 41 3 2 3 17 21 3 18 45 .252 .328 .350 .678
Generated 1/1/2013.
Mastroianni plays solid defense, has a little pop in his bat, and is a serious threat on the base paths.    Surprisingly, although a pretty small sample size, his RngR as a CF last season was a little better than Revere’s last season (1.3 in 32.1 innings, to -1.2 in 309 innings for Revere), while somewhat comparible to Span (8.7 in 1073.1 innings).  While both Revere and Span sport below average arms, according to Fangraphs, Mastroianni’s career ARM is an above average 2.0 in 406.1 career MLB innings.
The elephant in the room when it comes to Darin Mastroianni is that he has never been a starter or played a full season in the big leagues.  Although he has some obvious downfalls, his ability to be a nuisance on the bases will be a breath of fresh air in 2013.  According to the statistics, although difficult to fathom, he may even be somewhat of an upgrade defensively over Revere and Span.  If nothing else, I think we could say that he will hold his own.  I think the biggest thing we will miss will be the grinding at bats and highlight reel defensive gems we loved to see out of Span and Revere, respectively.
We’ll find out soon how long the Twins wait to introduce Aaron Hicks to Target Field, but I can think of worse band-aids to throw out in center field temporarily than Darin Mastroianni.  It’s safe to say he’ll probably never be the staple that Puckett, Hunter, and Span became; but don’t think it will be as big of a drop off as you would expect after trading away the two best center fielders on the roster this winter.

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