The eighth of nine position previews looks at the Twins’ outfield situation, which includes a familiar face that has returned to Minnesota after many years away.
Shane Robinson (.150/.227/.200, 4 RBI in 47 games with St. Louis)
2014 IN REVIEW
Center field was a revolving door for the Twins last year. Aaron Hicks began the season as Minnesota’s center fielder but struggled offensively. Hicks — who will start 2015 at Triple-A Rochester — batted just .215 in 69 games. A switch hitter his entire career, Hicks temporarily gave up switch hitting to focus solely on batting from the right side. He then reverted back to switch hitting, much to the frustration of the Twins’ coaching staff and front office.
Aside from Hicks, Minnesota used Sam Fuld in center field early in the season before eventually trading him. The Twins also put rookie Danny Santana in center field for a team-high 62 games, despite the fact that Santana was a shortstop his entire minor-league career. Santana held his own defensively in center field and was one of Minnesota’s best hitters of 2014.
Veteran Josh Willingham played just 68 games for the Twins last year before he was traded to Kansas City, and 52 of those games came in left field. Willingham, who has since retired, didn’t provide much range in the outfield for Minnesota. Meanwhile, Arcia had defensive issues in right field, particularly at Target Field as he dealt with the overhang above the right field fence. Offensively, though, Arcia broke out for his first 20-home run season and drove in 57 runs.
The Twins also trotted out Jason Kubel in right field for 35 games before ultimately cutting ties with the veteran outfielder. Chris Parmelee, Chris Herrmann, Chris Colabello and Eduardo Nunez all spent time in the corner outfield spots, too. No player on Minnesota’s roster played more than 97 games at one outfield spot; that was Arcia in right field.
As a unit, the Twins’ outfielders ranked among the worst in baseball in 2014, according to defensive metrics. Per FanGraphs, Minnesota’s outfielders had a combined UZR (ultimate zone rating) of -36.2. Only the Cleveland Indians fared worse in the outfield in that category. And in terms of defensive runs saved, Minnesota ranked dead last in the majors at -50 last season.
Minnesota signed Hunter, a former Twin, this past winter after the veteran spent the last seven years with the Angels and Tigers. Hunter, who turns 40 in July, played for the Twins during his first 11 seasons in the majors. Though Hunter’s defense has dropped off since he was first in Minnesota — he no longer plays center field — he did produce offensively for Detroit last season. It’s not a question of whether Hunter can hit for the Twins this year; the bigger question is how he’ll handle right field on an everyday basis.
With Hicks starting the season at Triple-A, that means Schafer and Robinson will platoon in center field — at least early on. Schafer was claimed off waivers from Atlanta during the season last year and played in 41 games toward the end of the year. His speed (15 stolen bases) was an asset, and he got on base at a decent rate, but he’s a career .229 hitter in five major-league seasons. Robinson, meanwhile, won a spot on the 25-man roster as the fourth outfielder. He’s spent parts of five seasons with the Cardinals and has just 268 games of big-league experience under his belt. However, like Schafer, he’s struggled offensively throughout his career, batting just .231 with St. Louis.
The Twins hope that a move from right field to left field will help Arcia defensively. He’ll likely still strike out a lot — he had 127 strikeouts last year, second-most on the team — but he has a chance to lead Minnesota in home runs.
If Hicks can figure things out in the minors, he could find himself back in the majors at some point this season. And Twins fans continue to await the arrival of uber prospect Byron Buxton, a center fielder who will begin the year at Double-A Chattanooga. Though a midseason call-up is probably unlikely, there’s a chance Buxton could debut in the majors by September if all goes well in the minors.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Improve defensively. There’s not much of an issue with the offensive production of Minnesota’s outfielders, but the Twins need to find a way to improve defensive in the outfield. Whether or not moving Arcia to left will help that remains to be seen. If Hunter’s defense in right field continues to dip, Minnesota could be in trouble.