The Minnesota Twins will enter the 2014 season with an abundance of outfielders. Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia will likely be named the starting corner outfielders for Minnesota, but the status of center field is still fairly uncertain. Joe Mauer’s move to first base potentially creates an opportunity for Chris Parmelee to focus on gaining more outfield playing time, but not likely in center field. Twins top prospect Byron Buxton will look to make a splash in Spring Training, but likely won’t see big-league playing time until the 2015 season. This makes Aaron Hicks and Alex Presley the only realistic options to fill the void, and Hicks’ poor performance as a rookie in 2013 doesn’t bode well for his near future. Should Presley be the Opening Day center fielder in Minnesota?
In 28 games for the Twins last season, Presley produced a .283/.336/.363 line, and recorded two outfield assists without committing an error in center field. Presley has good speed, a solid glove, and in 232 career games, he’s posted a .264/.304/.411 line. Also promising, Presley’s numbers seem to improve when he’s inserted in center. In 156 career plate appearances as a center fielder, he’s produced a significantly better line of .324/.372/.503. Only 28 years old, Presley has spent most of his career as a leadoff hitter and penciled in as such in 139 career games, he’s put up a triple slash of .275/.314/.408 with 10 home runs and 18 stolen bases.
Several red flags, however, also present themselves within Presley’s career numbers. He has all the tools necessary to be a solid leadoff hitter, but lacks patience at the plate. Of Presley’s 821 career plate appearances, 43 percent have ended on or before the third pitch of the at bat, and through 195 plate appearances in 2013, he drew only nine walks. Presley looks to attack early in the count and has shown success doing so, but not much success in critical situations. With men on base, Presley’s average and OBP drop to .240 and .280 respectively, and with runners in scoring position, he sports a meager .226/.284/.304 line.
Hicks has been a highly touted prospect in the Twins’ organization for much of the last five years. He has the potential to hit for average and power, and he has tremendous speed and a great glove. A flashy player, Hicks will likely be the fan’s choice to trot to center field on opening day in Minnesota, but they may be slightly misled.
Hicks has always had the potential to be a five-tool outfielder, but has only really proven to be capable of occupying two or three tools. As with Hicks, any MLB prospect needs to be brought up at the right time, put in the right spot, and be given an opportunity to succeed. If he has success, he then becomes confident, but if he never finds confidence, he could be forever lost in a sea of potential. A possible victim of unfair expectations, Hicks sports only a .269 batting average over six seasons in the minor leagues. In 81 games in 2013, he produced a line of .192/.259/.338, and hit .047 during his brief stint as a leadoff hitter.
Only 24 years old, Hicks will get another shot at his former job, but it needs to come at the right time. For the time being, Presley has put up very solid numbers and deserves to be the Twins’ starting center fielder in 2014. Minnesota has made a substantial effort this offseason to get back to their winning ways, and Presley in center gives them the best opportunity to win right now.