Losing Patience With the Mullet

In an organization that preaches patience to it’s fans, there stands one particular player that is causing me to run out of patience.  This particular player made the Top-100 List of Baseball America’s Prospects before the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and even spent the last three weeks of the 2011 season playing at Target Field.  The player who once figured to be a staple in the Twins lineup for years to come, has now become somewhat of an after-thought with a handful of other prospects in the organization progressing.  This player is Joe Benson.

Missing over half of the 2012 season due to injury sure hasn’t helped his cause, but at the age of 25, you would think that this would be the time for Benson to make his move.  The opportunity is there, as both Denard Span and Ben Revere were traded this off-season, opening a gaping hole in one of the most important defensive positions on the field.

Benson has always been regarded as a good defensive outfielder, which we have already witnessed in a few spring games this year.  He has good range, glove, and arm strength.  His defense is not the problem.  His one major inconsistency is his ability to put the bat on the ball.

In seven seasons in the minor leagues, Benson has struck out once every 4.15 plate appearances.  In his brief stint in the majors in 2011, he struck out 21 times in just 74 PA – an average of one strike out per 3.52 PA.  In those 74 plate appearances, he swung at 37.5% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, according to Fangraphs.  Outside of a long home run this spring, we’ve seen more of the same from Benson, striking out 12 times in 42 PA (3.5 PA/K).

His aggressiveness and what seems like a desire to do too much is dragging him down, as other outfielders in the organization (Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Byron Buxton, etc.) trend the opposite direction.  If you recall there was a certain other top prospect in the 1990’s within the organization that eventually replaced Kirby Puckett named Rich Becker.  He too struggled with putting the ball in play, striking out every 4.26 plate appearances through his career, and was traded after the 1997 season to the Mets for Alex Ochoa.

In 2010, between Fort Myers and New Britain, Benson hit 31 doubles and 27 home runs – both career highs.  That same season, he struck out 136 times – also a career high.  The year before, he hit only 10 doubles and 5 homers, striking out just 74 times in about 185 fewer plate appearances.  That same season he drew more walks, despite fewer PA, than he did in 2010.  His batting average in 2009 was .284 (.414 OBP), compared to 2010 when he dropped to .259 (.343 OBP).  Granted, he was playing a lower level of baseball in 2009, but it sure seems his surge in power in 2010 created an impatience at the plate.

Who knows if he just feels the pressure of guys like Hicks and Buxton coming up behind him, but it just seems like – even in these Spring Training games – he’s trying to do too much.  Maybe it’s just rust coming off the injuries last year, but his at-bats this spring are agreeing with his last few years in the minor leagues.  If Benson wants to become a fixture in the Twins lineup in 2013 and beyond – we know he can play defense – he needs to become more Mauer-like.  Don’t try to crush the ball every at-bat.  Most importantly, if he really wants to succeed at the Major League level, he needs to grow out the mullet again.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.