Monday, June 15, 2015

Ranking the Twins outfield priorities

Byron Buxton was 0-for-4 in his debut Sunday with a
pair of strikeouts and a failed sac bunt attempt.
Other than his highly anticipated and greatly heralded presence, Byron Buxton didn't have a great impact on Sunday's game in Arlington, Texas. Yes, he scored the winning run, but scoring from first on a two-out gapper would be routine for most baserunners. He ran down a potential gapper in the field, but I suspect Aaron Hicks would have made that play also, if not as easily.

Hicks, of course, wasn't available Sunday; the Twins put him on the disabled list as the move to get Buxton on the active roster. With Torii Hunter serving Game Two of his suspension, Paul Molitor deployed an outfield of Shane Robinson in left, Buxton in center and Eddie Rosario in right, and that is a pretty close to optimal defensive alignment.

The Twins have a bunch of outfielders now -- on the active roster, on the disabled list, and in the minors but still seen as significant pieces. Let's sort through the priorities.

1) Buxton. Yes, he has all of one game in the majors. He's still the single most important piece of this team's puzzle, the cornerstone player for the anticipated success ahead. He's here; he's playing.

2) Hunter. He's 39, but the team didn't commit $12 million to him to sit on the bench. I'd prefer to see him DHing than playing right.

3) Rosario. Debuted May 6 and has played in all but a handful of games since. Has so far lived up to his minor league billing, with arguably more power (three homers in his first 100 at-bats) than should be expected. Between his youth/developmental needs, his bat and his defensive skills, he should be in the outfield on a near-daily basis. Despite being in the running in training camp for the center field job, he has been strictly in the corners since his call-up, which is proper.

4) Oswaldo Arcia. Spluttering with a .167/.189/.229 slash line in Triple A, he appears to have been eclipsed by Rosario in the corner outfield plans. He's a better hitter than that .418 Rochester OPS suggests, but so what? His fielding woes negate the hitting, and between Hunter and Kennys Vargas, there's not much room available at DH. He's still only 24, but he's out of options after this season. A trade seems inevitable, and right now his value is probably as low as it's ever been.

5) Hicks. Buxton pushes him out of the center field job. His bat pushes him out of a regular corner outfield role. That makes him a fourth outfielder, which is not what he was drafted in the first round to be. Is the organization willing to accept that, or will they dump him? He's also out of options after this season.

6) Shane Robinson. Too flawed to be an outfield regular, but he does enough things well to use him. A prototype reserve outfielder.

7) Jordan Schafer. Rosario has already garnered 40 more plate appearances than the Opening Day center fielder. Schafer wasn't anywhere near the player this year that he was in August-September last year, and I don't see a role for him after he comes off the disabled list. Hicks and Robinson rank ahead of him as reserve outfielders, and nobody needs four center fielders on the roster.

8) Eduardo Escobar. I'll list him here because Baseball Reference has him as the regular left fielder so far. If he's still so listed after the All-Star break, Molitor is doing it wrong. Even if the Twins decide to turn to Jorge Polanco or Danny Santana at short, Escobar shouldn't get outfield time ahead of the first five on this list. He's an infielder. Use him as such.

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