Aaron Hicks, who was saddled with a .192 batting average last season, will be a key in Minnesota's outfield this season. Though he struggled last season at the plate, Hicks offers an impressive blend of speed and defense.
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This is the eighth of a nine-part series examining each position for the Minnesota Twins in 2014. Today we take a look at the outfielders, where many question marks appear after a disappointing 2013.
Josh Willingham (.208/.342/.368, 14 HR, 48 RBI in 111 games)
After trading away outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere before the 2013 season, the Twins ushered in the Aaron Hicks Era. Minnesota brought Hicks north after spring training almost by default, as there were no other viable options at center field — and because Hicks’ spring training numbers were too good to ignore. Hicks made the jump to the majors even though he had yet to play a game above Double-A New Britain, but the Twins remained hopeful that Hicks’ potential would translate to the big league level.
That wasn’t the case, as the 23-year-old Hicks struggled at the plate for most of his time in the majors. He was batting just .113 after April and never really found his swing. Though Hicks made some impressive plays defensively in center field, the offense was still a problem. Minnesota sent Hicks to Triple-A Rochester in early August and he did not get called back up in September, capping what proved to be a rough rookie season.
Meanwhile, Willingham’s offensive production took a dip in 2013 after the veteran outfielder put up career numbers (35 home runs, 110 RBI) in 2012. Willingham did miss time with a knee injury that required surgery, and that knee could have contributed to his struggles at the plate. Even so, his .709 OPS (on-base plus slugging) was his lowest of any full season in the majors.
Arcia was a bit of a bright spot for the Twins last year as he debuted two weeks into April and finished second on the team with 14 home runs. While he’s average at best defensively, Arcia’s power potential was intriguing for a Minnesota team in need of some power hitters.
The Twins used several other outfielders throughout the 2013 season, including Clete Thomas for 92 games, Wilkin Ramirez for 35 games and Darin Mastroianni for 30 games. Chris Herrmann, who is primarily a catcher, also played 14 games in right field. Minnesota also mixed and matched Ryan Doumit, Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello in right.
Since Minnesota didn’t make many changes to the offense this season, the Twins are hoping for big years from the likes of Willingham, Hicks and Arcia, who figure to be the starting left, center and right fielders. Willingham has had a rough spring, going just 2-for-36 (.056) through Wednesday. Hicks has put together solid numbers down in Fort Myers, but as he showed last year, that doesn’t necessarily mean much once the regular season starts.
Arcia played in just 97 games last year and still finished with 14 home runs. The 22-year-old Venezuela native has a chance to lead the Twins in that department this year. Arcia, a left-handed batter, showed he can hit both right-handed and left-handed pitching. Against lefties last year, Arcia’s average was actually higher (.254) than it was against righties (.249), although he put up better power numbers against right-handers.
This will be an important year for Hicks to prove he can play at this level. Minnesota has a center field prospect in Byron Buxton waiting in the wings, but Buxton is likely a year away from playing the in majors. That means Hicks should have all season to establish himself in the outfield and continue to adjust to big-league pitching.
Alex Presley, acquired from Pittsburgh last August in exchange for Justin Morneau, had a chance to be the Twins’ starting center fielder this year but it appears as if he’ll be Minnesota’s fourth outfielder. Presley played 204 games with the Pirates during parts of four seasons and played nearly every day after arriving in Minnesota. He can play any of the three outfield positions and has actually played more in left field in the majors than center or right. Note: Presley was claimed on waivers by the Astros on Thursday.
Kubel makes the team after spending the last two years with Arizona and Cleveland. Injuries hampered him during the 2013 season as he played a total of just 97 games. During his seven years with the Twins, Kubel had three 20-home run seasons and also hit for average (.271 average with Minnesota). He hit a career-high 30 home runs in 2012 with the Diamondbacks but hit just five last year. The Twins are hoping Kubel’s numbers are more similar to his 2012 output than the disappointing stats he had in 2013. It remains to be seen how much he’ll actually play in the outfield; he may be used more as a designated hitter and pinch hitter.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Bounce back from 2013. Many of the Twins’ outfielders had seasons to forget last year, including Willingham, Hicks and Kubel. If Minnesota’s lineup is going to be better than people expect, it’ll start with the cast of outfielders putting up better numbers than they did last year. Staying healthy will be key to that, as well.