The Message of 2013 for Joe Benson is Simple: It’s Now or Never

By Brian Wille
Brace Hemmelgarn- USA TODAY Sports

The competition for the opening day starter in center field for the Minnesota Twins will likely not be decided until the end of spring training. However, heading into spring training, no candidate is in need of a big performance more than Joe Benson.

Once rated as high as baseball’s number 99 overall prospect on their top 100 list after the 2011 season, Benson has experienced significant growing pains as he tries to find his footing and establish himself as an everyday major league baseball player.  Unfortunately for him, this upcoming season may be the last real shot that he has to establish himself as a major league starter in a Twins uniform.

With prospects Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia and Max Kepler gaining more experience and notoriety as they progress through the minor leagues, the window of opportunity for Benson to take hold of a Twins’ starting outfield spot is rapidly closing.

Benson’s best year came in 2010 where he spent time in high Single-A and Double-A minor league systems. During this year, Benson hit a combined .273 with 27 HR and 62 RBI in 123 games.  It wasn’t until 2011 that Benson would make his major league debut with the Twins during a September call up, where he posted a .239 batting average, zero HR and two RBI in 21 games.

Benson has risen as high as the Twins’ number two overall prospect after the 2007 and 2011 seasons and has been named the Twins Best Athlete after the 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011 season, but it will be up to him to become more than just an athlete if he is ever to become an everyday Twins player at the major league level.

His athletic gifts and tools are noticeable as he has the build of a power hitter and the speed to cover a vast amount of ground in the outfield. The problem seems to be that he cannot regain his hitting stroke that has led to much of his success and his promotion to the major leagues in 2011.

2012 was a lost season for Benson as he was projected to compete for a major league roster spot out of spring training, but injuries and poor play demoted him all the way to high Single-A.  With 2012 behind him, Benson enters the 2013 season a renewed player with an optimistic feeling that he again will have the chance to win a big league roster spot. With an available starting spot in centerfield after the trade of both Denard Span and Ben Revere, this may be the best shot that Benson has for the rest of his career.

The trendy and popular choice to fill the vacant centerfield slot seems to be Hicks, whom fans are anxious to see become the team’s leadoff hitter and latest in the line of exceptional outfielders. With Arcia also expected to compete for time at the major league level—possibly as early as season’s end—the opportunities for Benson moving forward are looking slim to none.

Lucky for Benson, he still has this one last shot to turn this career around and fulfill his dream of being an everyday, major league ballplayer.  Sometimes all a player needs is a second chance or a vote of confidence from their organization to make the most of their abilities and cement themselves as a contributor.

The rapper Eminem said it best when he sang, “If you had one shot or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?” That message rings loud for Benson heading into his most important season of his career at age 24. It’s now or never for Benson, so is he going to capture his final opportunity or just let it slip?

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