Friday, March 22, 2013

Contemplating Joe Benson

Joe Benson reviews his at-bat after a ground-out.
Joe Benson was optioned out Friday, becoming the first -- and probably the last -- of the three center field candidates shipped out of major league camp.

The assumption here remains that Aaron Hicks will be the regular in center and Darrin Mastroianni the fourth outfielder. But today let's consider Benson's status.

Had 2012 gone according to plan, Benson would probably have entered spring training the heir apparent for one of the starting outfield slots. But 2012 was an utter disaster for the 2006 second-round pick: Multiple surgeries, just 312 plate appearances spread among four levels, a .202/.288/.336 combined slash line.

Hicks moved past Benson in the pecking order. So did Mastroianni, and Chris Parmelee and Oswaldo Arcia. The only real reason Benson was seriously in the running for the center field job is that Parmelee and Arcia are limited to outfield corners.

Benson had good moments and bad in camp -- enough bad to take himself out of the running for the job, enough good that he remains a plausible future major leaguer. The physical tools remain; he hasn't turned them into skills yet.

This is his third and final option year. In 2013, the Twins can, if they choose, yo-yo him up and down, majors and minors, with impunity. In 2014, however, he'll be out of options, and if he doesn't make the major league roster he'll have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors.

Benson turned 25 earlier this month. It's not impossible for him to become a major league regular, but time is running thin for him. This figures to be a pivotal year for him. He either forces the Twins (or another major league team) make room for him, or he's probably looking at a few years of scrambling on the edges of rosters.

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