Thursday, March 26, 2015

Center field revisited

Aaron Hicks' stat line
is less impressive than
it was a week ago.
When I wrote here last week about the center field competition, Aaron Hicks was sporting a .330 spring training average. He had maybe one hit since then and dropped to .207 -- which, really only illustrates the silliness of relying on spring training stats to evaluate players. The sample sizes are small, the competition is uneven, the numbers are essentially meaningless.

Even if he were still hitting three-something, so what? He did that in spring trainings 2013 and and 2014, and it didn't prove indicative of anything. Hicks has 150 regular season games, 538 regular season plate appearances, in which he's hit .201. Letting a couple dozen spring training at-bats outweigh that would be silly.

Meanwhile, Eddie Rosario's spring training stats display a red-flag glitch: 40 plate appearances, no walks. He still has a batting average (.256 per Baseball Reference) higher than his on-base percentage (.250). His minor league stat line hardly reveals a Kevin Youkilis-type base-on-balls machine, but it's not that bizarre.

My take on this is that he's trying too hard to impress. There used to be a cliche about Dominican players and their hacking tendencies: You can't walk off the island. The idea was that these players were encouraged to swing at everything because they had to hit the ball to get the scouts' attention. Rosario is from Puerto Rico, not the Dominican, but the concept holds.

Hicks and Rosario are the two young guys in camp who can be seen as full-time center fielders. Veteran fringe players Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson are more likely to be platoon mates, and that increasingly looks like the direction the Twins will take. Terry Ryan doesn't sound very enthused by that prospect, while Paul Molitor this week expressed openness to platoons and invoked the success Earl Weaver had with platoons back when Molitor was a young player.

One difference, of course, is that Weaver platooned aggressively. His Orioles collected players like John Lowenstein and Benny Ayala specifically to use in such roles. A Schafer-Robinson platoon would be more a passive platoon, chosen out of a lack of better options not for a strategic advantage. Robinson's career splits actually suggest he's a bit "backwards," meaning better against right-handed pitchers, although I don't think 200 or so plate appearances over five seasons each way proves a whole lot. He's probably not the right-handed outfielder you'd pursue if you wanted to build a center field platoon.

Still, Schafer-Robinson is more palatable to me this spring than either Hicks or, I'm sorry to say, Rosario. (If Rosario does come north, I will not complain, but I won'be have high expectations; if it's Hicks, I will complain.) Schafer-Robinson are acceptable until Bryon Buxton arrives, and I hope that's sooner rather than later.

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