Twins prospects may get chance in outfield

This is the fifth in a five-part series previewing the Minnesota Twins by position heading into spring training, which starts Tuesday with pitchers and catchers reporting.

Friday: Starting pitchers
Saturday: Relief pitchers
Sunday: Catchers
Monday: Infielders
Today: Outfielders

ON THE ROSTER (alphabetical order): Oswaldo Arcia (.320, 17 HR, 98 RBI, 3 SB in the minor leagues), Joe Benson (.202, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 13 SB in the minor leagues), Aaron Hicks (.286, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 32 SB in the minor leagues), Darin Mastroianni (.252, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 21 SB), Josh Willingham (.260, 35 HR, 110 RBI, 3 SB)

OFFSEASON CHANGES: Minnesota made several big changes to its outfield this winter, trading away Denard Span and Ben Revere in exchange for pitching. Span, the Twins’ center fielder and leadoff hitter for the past several seasons, was dealt to Washington in exchange for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. After dealing with concussions in 2011, Span bounced back to play in 128 games in 2012 and hit .283 with 71 runs and 17 stolen bases.

Revere, Minnesota’s best defensive outfielder, was traded to Philadelphia in early December. In return for Revere, the Twins received right-hander Vance Worley and pitching prospect Trevor May. The 2012 season marked Revere’s second full year in the majors, and he appeared in 124 games for Minnesota. The speedy Revere stole a team-high 40 bases, batted .294 and made a number of highlight-reel catches in both right field and center field.

While Span and Revere were solid contributors for the Twins, Minnesota desperately needed pitching and had to trade away two starting outfielders in order to acquire it. Now that Span and Revere are gone, the Twins need to fill a few openings in the outfield.

STARTER SPOTLIGHT: Josh Willingham was signed prior to 2012 and had a career year in his first season with the Twins. The 33-year-old Willingham hit 35 homers and drove in 110 runs — both career highs — to lead Minnesota’s offense. He also stayed relatively healthy, too, as he appeared in 145 games (yet another career high), 119 of those in left field. Willingham enters spring as the one certainty in the Twins’ outfield.

The Twins claimed Darin Mastroianni off waivers after he played one game in 2011 for the Toronto Blue Jays. He appeared in 77 games last year, including 41 starts in the outfield. Mastroianni may be one of the Twins’ smartest base runners. He stole 21 bases — second-most on the team — in just 186 plate appearances.

While not technically listed as an outfielder, first baseman Chris Parmelee also saw some time in right field (18 games) last season and could play there again in 2013 — especially if first baseman Justin Morneau is healthy and playing every day. It will be interesting to see how Parmelee’s time is split defensively, but there’s a good chance he’ll start the year in right field as he continues to learn the position.

Aaron Hicks is a former first-round pick in 2008 (14th overall) and one of the top prospects in the Twins’ farm system. He has yet to play higher than Double-A New Britain, but Minnesota has shown in the past that it has no problem promoting players from Double-A to the majors. The switch-hitting Hicks is one of a few candidates for the center field job, which remains a question mark entering spring.

Oswaldo Arcia has an outside shot of making the 25-man roster out of spring. Regarded as one of the Twins’ top prospects, the 21-year-old Arcia advanced to Double-A New Britain midway through last season. In 69 games with the Rock Cats, he batted .328 and hit 10 home runs. Arcia has primarily played right field in five minor league seasons.

SPRING TRAINING QUESTION: Who will be the starting center fielder on Opening Day? Of the five outfielders currently on the 40-man roster, they have a total of seven career major league starts at center field. Mastroianni has played five games in center, including four last year with the Twins, while Joe Benson made two starts in center back in 2011. Willingham has nine seasons in the majors but has never once played center field.

This position battle might end up being the most intriguing one to watch this spring, along with the two middle infield positions. Leading up to camp, it appears as if Hicks might be the front-runner for the center field job. After a down year in 2011 at High-A Fort Myers, Hicks had a strong season with Double-A New Britain. He batted .286 with a career-high 13 home runs and stole 32 bases (also a career high) in 129 games with the Rock Cats. He has spent the majority of his five minor league seasons in center field (431 games). Hicks has speed and range in center field and also has a strong arm, something Revere lacked.

If Hicks doesn’t start the year in center field, it might be Mastroianni’s job to temporarily hold down the spot. He was used as the Twins’ fourth outfielder after getting called up in early May but played just four games in center field. It remains to be seen how Mastroianni will fare as an everyday outfielder.

Benson will likely be in the mix for the center field job as well. The 24-year-old Benson made his major league debut as a September call-up in 2011 and batted .239 with two RBI in 21 games. He struggled last year in the minors, due in part to an injury, and split his time between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester. Benson will have to prove he’s healthy in order to insert himself into the center fielder mix.

GENERAL MANAGER TERRY RYAN SAYS: “I think it’s safe to say this organization’s got some outfield depth. Trading two guys and your one and two hitter, we all know that’s a risk. But we do have Benson and we have Mastroianni and we still have Hicks. So we’ve got some young guys, and we have the opportunity possibly to add to the inventory as we go through the winter. It allowed us to do this. It’s still a risk, obviously, but we’ve got to get pitching or it doesn’t really matter too much what we put out there if we can’t pitch.”

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