Minnesota Twins’ Center Field Competition Comes Down to Hicks, Mastroianni and Benson

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

While the Minnesota Twins have several problems to solve during their 2013 spring training, the battle for center field will inevitably take center stage. This seemed like an unlikely predicament as 2012 came to a close with two true center fielders roaming the Twins’ outfield. But after GM Terry Ryan dealt Denard Span and Ben Revere, the Twins found themselves in search of a center fielder and a leadoff hitter.

Center field has been a position of pride in the Twins’ organization since the days Kirby Puckett was patrolling the astroturf at the Metrodome. Since then, Torii HunterCarlos GomezDenard Span and Ben Revere kept the tradition alive by regularly stealing triples and turning in highlight-worthy catches.

Suddenly, there is a vacancy with no clear successor in line.

It appears as battle for center will be a three man race between Aaron HicksDarin Mastroianni and Joe Benson. Combined, they have less than 100 game of MLB experience. Without an incumbent, Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire insist it will be a wide-open competition.

The Twins wanted Hicks, their 2007 first round draft pick, to be Span’s legatee. But the switch-hitting Hicks’ development through the minors has been pedestrian, and while he undoubtedly has the raw skill set to be a everyday major leaguer, he may need another year in the minors before he is ready. Hicks has never played a game above AA and with a reputation of being a slow starter, the jump to the big leagues may be a bit of a stretch.

Mastroianni has the most experience of the candidates in the big leagues. He played 77 games for the Twins last year and hit .252 during his first taste of major league action. Perhaps most impressively, he stole 21 bases in 24 attempts, which would be good for a respectable 45 bases over a 162 game season.  One could say that Mastroianni’s skill set makes him a good fourth outfielder. However, the right handed 27 year-old is hardly a offensive threat, and would be a questionable leadoff hitter and everyday starter.

Joe Benson is somewhat of a journeyman minor leaguer who got his first sniff in the big leagues in 2012. Benson went into 2012 regarded as a top prospect and fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster, but after some injuries led to poor performance in AAA, he was demoted to AA where he hit a lowly .184. When he’s been good in the past, he’s had flashes of five-tool ability. Benson is out of minor league options  as he enters his eighth year with the organization. The Twins will have to give him a shot to break camp with the club in 2013.

I guess you could say Mastroianni is the leading candidate at this point. He has the most experience and proved valuable in certain situations last season. Hicks seems to be the heir apparent to Denard Span, and while fans would most like to see the ultra-athletic switch hitter next year, he may need another year of seasoning in the minors before he’s ready to go. Benson has the most to prove but also the most to lose, with this spring training representing a crucial crossroad in his career. If he’s healthy and motivated he could be a dark horse in this race. It will be exciting once exhibition games get under way to see how this battle plays out.

Follow Max on Twitter @maxoselim

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