Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Eye on 2014: Center field

Aaron Hicks had some moments of athletic
brilliance in 2013, but the year as a whole was
a disaster for the rookie.
There will be two kinds of center fielders in the Twins spring training camp.

One kind is Bryon Buxton. The other kind are the placeholders, the ones whose longer term purpose is as bench guys or as a marginal corner outfielder.

The placeholder candidates for center field are Alex Presley, Aaron Hicks and, although he's not now on the 40-man roster, Darin Mastroianni.

A recent SB Nation piece — a real hype-feeder — suggests that Buxton could, right now, hit .260 in the majors, steal 30 bases and play Gold-Glove level defense. I am quite certain of the latter and regard the other two assertions as genuinely possible. And if those three projections are accurate, Buxton would be the best center fielder for 2014 the Twins have.

Even if true, that doesn't mean he should get the job. The problem, of course, is service time. Bring Buxton up now, and the service time clock starts ticking while he's still developing. Another year of seasoning and growth means that the Twins will get more bang for their buck when he arrives. Patience is not an easy sell, but it's still the wiser course.

Realistically, the spring battle is between Presley and Hicks. Hicks has the higher ceiling, but the mystery is: After last season's debacle, it's difficult to see what he can do in spring training to win the job.

Remember, Hicks had a sensational spring last year. Then the season started, and he. Didn't. Hit. And his game didn't get any better when the Twins sent him to Triple A. Even if he has a sensational spring this year, why would we buy into it?

Hicks has the higher ceiling, Presley the higher floor. My guess is that Presley will get the center field job to open the season. He'll hit leadoff, provide an empty batting average and mediocre defense and be easily shoved aside when the time comes for Buxton. Hicks should go to Triple A and earn his next shot.

Presley's role on a good team, at most, would be as a fourth or fifth outfielder, a bench guy. Mastroianni has the same ceiling, but at this point has to demonstrate that last season's ankle injuries haven't robbed him of his speed. Hicks could be, should be, a regular center fielder somewhere someday, but it won't be in Minnesota. He'll have to hit better than he has to be a center fielder, and a whole lot better to be a corner outfielder.

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