Twins have issues but not in the outfield

This is the third in a four-part series reviewing the Minnesota Twins’ 2012 season and looking ahead to 2013.

Monday: Starting pitchers
Tuesday: Relief pitchers
Today: Outfielders
Thursday: Infielders and catchers

ON THE ROSTER (alphabetical order): Matt Carson (.227, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB), Darin Mastroianni (.252, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 21 SB), Ben Revere (.294, 0 HR, 32 RBI, 40 SB), Denard Span (.283, 4 HR, 41 RBI, 17 SB), Josh Willingham (.260, 35 HR, 110 RBI, 3 SB)

LOOKING BACK: The Twins’ outfielders were perhaps the most consistent group of any unit this season. Minnesota signed left fielder Josh Willingham as a free agent in the offseason, and he ended up being the Twins’ best offensive player. Willingham set career highs in home runs (35) and RBI (110), topping previous highs of 29 and 98, respectively, set last year while he was with Oakland.

While Target Field has gained a reputation as a pitcher’s ballpark, Willingham made the Twins’ home park look small. The field suited Willingham’s strength as a pull hitter, as it’s easier to hit a home run down the left field line. His right-handed bat was a nice compliment to an otherwise left handed-heavy lineup of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Span and Revere. Defensively, Willingham was adequate but by no means flashed the leather like Span or Revere did.

Span missed a good portion of 2011 due to a concussion, but he returned to his post in center field and played in 128 games this year. He once again proved to be a valuable leadoff hitter, as his .342 on-base percentage was fourth-best on the team.

Revere was yet again a human highlight reel defensively in the outfield, turning in plenty of impressive catches. The 24-year-old speedster finished with 40 stolen bases, becoming the first Twins player since Chuck Knoblauch in 1997 to steal 40 bases. A year ago, Revere set a team rookie record with 34 steals. At the plate, Revere improved his average nearly 30 points from 2011, boosting it from .267 last year to .294 this year. He endured a brief demotion to Triple-A Rochester, but spent just 23 games in the minors this year and now looks to be a fixture in the Twins’ outfield for years to come.

Mastroianni was a bit of an unknown entering this year but was called up to the majors in early May after playing at both Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester. Mastroianni ended up playing 77 games as a backup outfielder and injected speed into Minnesota’s lineup when he was in it. He stole 21 bases and was caught stealing just three times. Mastroianni has the versatility to play all three outfield positions.

The Twins also used catcher Ryan Doumit and first baseman Chris Parmelee at times in the outfield. On days when Doumit wasn’t catching, he spent time in both left field (16 games) and right field (six games). Parmelee previously had some experience in the minors in right field (282 total games) and handled himself fine defensively in the 19 games the Twins used him in the outfield. With first baseman Justin Morneau returning to health this year, there wasn’t much playing time at first for Parmelee. But Minnesota wanted to keep his bat in the lineup, so right field was a viable option.

OFFSEASON DECISIONS: Desperately in need of starting pitching, the Twins will have to do something this offseason to acquire one or two starters. That could mean trading an outfielder. Span’s name has come up in trade rumors in each of the past two seasons, but the 2011 and 2012 trade deadlines came and went without Span switching teams. Span has a team-friendly contract and is an above-average hitter and fielder, so he could be a guy the Twins look to move to acquire pitching.

Outside of that, there won’t be many decisions to make regarding the outfielders entering next season. Willingham and Span are both signed through 2014, and Doumit signed a contract extension mid-season that will keep him around through 2014. The only possible decision is who will make the roster out of camp as a backup outfielder next spring.

LOOKING AHEAD: If Span is indeed moved this offseason, Revere should hold down the everyday center field job. With Willingham in left, that would only leave a question mark in right field. The platoon of Parmelee, Doumit and Mastroianni seemed to work well late in 2012 and could be the course of action again in 2013.

Minnesota has plenty of outfield depth in the organization, including a few intriguing prospects at Double-A New Britain. Outfielders Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks both spent a good part of the season with the Rock Cats and put up impressive numbers. In 69 games at Double-A, Arcia batted .328 with 10 home runs and 67 RBI. Hicks, meanwhile, hit .286 with 13 home runs, 61 RBI and 32 stolen bases in 129 games. While it’s unlikely that either of those two players will break camp on the major league roster, there’s a chance that one or both could make their major league debuts at some point in 2013.

MANAGER RON GARDENHIRE SAYS: “We have a core that’s back out on the field now. I mean, going into the offseason, we have something you can really build around knowing they’re going to be on the field. That’s pretty good. The Willinghams and guys like that, that’s a pretty good group that can do some damage with some pretty good players around them.”

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