|Joe Benson hit .179 in|
Triple A in 2012 and
.184 in Double A.
The Twins now have a hole where their center fielders used to be. And much as was the case when Torii Hunter fled as a free agent after the 2007 season, the idea appears to be to let three unestablished players fight it out in spring training.
In the spring of 2008, it was Carlos Gomez, Jason Pridie and Span. In the spring of 2013, it will be Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks and Darin Mastroianni.
The Twins, to put it bluntly, chose the wrong guy in 2008. Span demonstrated in spring training that he was a true leadoff hitter, a man who could get on base. In on exhibition game against the Yankees, Span drew three walks; he probably took more pitches in that one game than Gomez did all spring.
|Darin Mastroianni stole 21 bases in 24 attempts.|
This time around, there is greater familiarity with the three candidates. Mastroianni spent much of last season on the big-league squad; Hicks and Benson have spent their entire professional careers in the organization.
Each has known flaws. Mastroianni — fast but lacking in power — profiles as a fourth outfielder, not as a regular. Benson, who had a miserable, injury-riddled 2012 and is rehabbing from knee surgery, is a suberb athlete who has never really demonstrated command of the strike zone. Hicks, a switch-hitter, struggled for years as a left-handed hitter; only last season, at Double-A New Britain, has he performed well against right-handed pitching.
I believe any of the three can handle the job defensively. The question is who can hit.
My take: Hicks is, at least in the long-term, the favorite, and I suspect the Twins would really like to see the former first round pick come into camp and seize the job. Unlike Benson, he projects as a leadoff man; unlike Mastroianni, he projects as a regular.
But there's a part of me that favors the notion of handing the job to Benson. Sink or swim, kid. It's time to see what you've got.
I've grown skeptical of Benson's ability to turn his tools into skills. And I suspect that 2013 represents his last best chance to live up to the expectations. Whether he hits or not, I would expect Hicks to come up in mid-season — either to replace Benson in the lineup, or to fill the gap left when either Josh Willingham or Justin Morneau is traded.