Under the Radar Position Battle to Watch

Today, Joe Benson gets the start in the leadoff spot playing in center field, after Darin Mastroianni and Aaron Hicks took their turns Saturday and Sunday, respectively.  As those three players duke it out to follow in Denard Span‘s tracks, the job as the 4th outfielder is up for grabs.  Much of that decision will be based on who wins the job in center, so let’s take a look at a couple of different scenarios.

If Aaron Hicks or Joe Benson wins the CF competition, it’s pretty easy.  Darin Mastroianni is your 4th outfielder.  He can play all three outfield positions, he’s reliable, and can survive as a big league hitter.  He’s the ideal guy for this job, with his range and defensive skills, but also his ability to cause havoc on the base paths in the event he actually gets on base, which he did at a .328 clip last year.  Ok, that was easy right?

But what if Mastroianni doesn’t head to Minnesota as the starting center fielder/leadoff guy?  There’s no way Aaron Hicks is coming north as a bench player.  If he doesn’t win the CF spot, he’s going to Rochester to play everyday.

What about Joe Benson?  Coming off a season lost due to injury in 2012, I don’t see how the Twins could let him just come up and play a couple times a week in Minnesota either.  Benson only has 108 plate appearances at the AAA level, and just 74 major league plate appearances – neither of which he has excelled at.  He needs the experience, wherever that is, of playing every day just as much as Hicks does.  If Benson’s not the starter in Minnesota, he needs to be playing somewhere in the outfield every day in Rochester.

From here the outfield depth gets a little hazy.  There are five other outfielders in camp this year, only one of those on the 40 man roster – Oswaldo Arcia.  Like Hicks, Arcia has never played above the AA level and, as one of the top prospects in the organization, will be playing every day somewhere.  With Chris Parmelee and Josh Willingham solidifying the corner outfield spots, Arcia seems to be a lock to start in AAA at best.

Non-roster invitees include Brandon Boggs, Brian Dinkelman, Wilkin Ramirez, and Clete Thomas.  Out of those four, only Boggs and Thomas have played CF at the major league level; and Ramirez has played small parts of three seasons in the minors in CF.  This is important because the ability to play that position in addition to the corner outfield spots will be necessary to give Mastroianni a break.  Boggs has only played 29 innings in CF in his career, while Thomas has 143 innings logged in center.

After hitting a home run in his first appearance as a Twin last year, Thomas struck out 16 times in 28 at bats, but was re-signed in the off-season.  Boggs is a career .209 hitter and also strikes out an alarmingly high rate.  Ramirez has 43 career plate appearances, striking out 14 times, but hitting .270.  Dinkelman hit .301 in his only stint with the Twins back in 2011, but has been just an average minor leaguer in his career.  He offers some defensive flexibility, but has never played CF even in the minors.

This will all be fixed if Hicks or Benson becomes the starting center fielder for the Twins out of spring.  If Mastroianni is the guy, look for him to be in the lineup literally every day until one of the younger players takes over.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.