Odd man out? The Twins suddenly have a glut of outfielders
Thanks to the legend of Kirby Puckett, the Twins have a long history of being strong in the outfield -- particularly center field, where Puck passed the torch to Torii Hunter, whose absence still seems to be haunting the team. At 38, Hunter is still beating up on his old club long after they let him go after 2007.
Then, the trade that sent Johan Santana to the Mets yielded an exciting, if raw, player in Carlos Gomez. Go-Go never seemed to know exactly what he was doing out there. Even though he stole 33 bases over 153 games (spelling Hunter in 2008), his batting average was only .258 and went down the next season to .229. He's one of the top center fielders in the game and at the plate for the Brewers now, which adds up to another frustrating loss for the team since he never showed that kind of consistency as a Twin.
The transition to center fielder Denard Span seemed to be seamless when he moved to center in 2010 and played 153 games. But by 2012, the Twins were done with Span; he never hit with Hunter's power, and was a serviceable (if not spectacular) lead-off hitter.
Ben Revere seemed to be a natural fit to replace Span, but soon he was gone, too -- off to the Phillies. Suddenly the Twins were faced with a question that hadn't worried them for years: Who was going to play center?
That question was answered somewhat disastrously last season, as the Twins took a gamble on 23-year-old Aaron Hicks. He was decidedly not the answer. He struck out 84 times in 82 games while hitting a paltry .192 and was maddeningly inconsistent in the field. Good speed, but little ball awareness off the bat, and the fabled Major League curve made him look foolish. He finished the season in the minors.
This year, the Twins gave the spot to Hicks again, and he hasn't really responded any better. He hit just .178 in 24 games, and he's now spending time on the DL for concussion reasons after he slammed into the Target Field wall trying to make a catch against the Dodgers last week.
But the Twins shouldn't be worried. Yes, they let Alex Presley get away to Houston, the player they picked up for Justin Morneau from the Pirates last season -- meaning they essentially got nothing for Morneau.
Two pickups have been key for the Twins: Signing former Twin Jason Kubel to a minor-league contract at the beginning of spring training. Kubel has been putting together a season that makes it look like he's back to old form, batting .287 in 28 games and playing a pretty good left field.
Then they acquired Sam Fuld, a longtime Tampa Bay Ray fan favorite from Oakland. Fuld has provided plenty of spark in the 11 games he's been here, hitting .279 with six doubles. More than that, Fuld is fast, and looks a darn sight better out in center than Hicks ever did.
And nobody could have foreseen that Chis Colabello, a journeyman in the independent minor leagues, would come out of the gate so strong, breaking Puckett's RBI record for the month of April and inspiring a fan giveaway of Chris Colabello cowbells.
Add Chris Herrmann into the mix, a guy who can basically play any position except pitcher, and the team suddenly has plenty of outfielders. Oswaldo Arcia, who has All-Star potential, is set to come off the DL with a sprained wrist, and the Twins might have trouble fitting him in.
Which brings us to Josh Willingham, who may end up being the odd man out in the outfield. Willingham has a fractured wrist after being hit by a pitch just six games into the season, a tough injury for any batter to recover from. Willingham made a splash when he came to the Twins from Oakland, hitting 35 home runs and 110 RBI in 2012. But last year, Willingham started to show his age. He was bothered by nagging injuries all year, his home run total plummeted to 14 in 111 games, and sometimes it seems as if he needed a walker playing in left.
Willingham at 35 might yet regain the stroke that makes him a bona fide home run threat. But as the season progresses, it could very well be that the Twins don't need him anymore.