Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Twins Outfield That's Yet To Come

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've had a handful of readers asking about the current construction of the Minnesota Twins outfield, and how it will change going forward. I would suppose Oswaldo Arcia's struggles as well as the introduction of the 2015 version of Aaron Hicks is at the root of these discussions. However, Minnesota remains in a place where the outfield could be turned into a relative strength in short order.

Going into the 2014 season, the configuration from left to right of Arcia, Jordan Schafer, and Torii Hunter had nightmare written all over it. Minnesota was set to punt once again defensively in left (a la Josh Willingham), and go with the basement dwelling ceiling of Schafer in center. While Hunter's bat was expected to play, he's far from an asset defensively at this point in his career. To this point in the season, the defensive struggle in the outfield has been apparent, but not as noteworthy as expected. Right now, only Hunter remains of that current group, and that has proven for the better.

On the season Arcia has played in just 19 games. He is currently rehabbing from a DL stint and is looking to get back to the big leagues. His .276/.338/.379 slash line isn't horrid, but he's lacked the power and plate discipline many expected to show up this season. Arcia has been a name that plenty have wondered about trading, sending down, or have tied frustration to, but all of that appears premature.

I thought Arcia would lead the Twins in home runs going into the season. 30 long balls appeared to be a realistic mark, and he seemed to have the ability to make Target Field look very small. So far, injury has prevented that narrative from playing out, but a strong summer could still save face. There's no doubt the Twins should stick with him in left and get the Venezuelan at bats at DH as well. Going forward, he's a guy I think Minnesota should feel ok with manning left for them. If that's the Twins one defensive punt in the outfield, it's one I'm ok with.

In center, the Twins were fighting an uphill battle from the get go. Schafer was always going to be a poor option, and platooning him with a veteran 4th outfielder at best in Shane Robinson just screamed. Thankfully, Aaron Hicks took over in the middle of May. As expected, Hicks has been a much different player this time around and both he and the Twins are better for it.

Always regarded as a plus defender, it's been Hicks bat that has made the biggest improvement. Taking quality at bats from both sides of the plate, Hicks is slashing .250/.297/.317. The OBP mark is one that should be expected to continue to rise as he has always been a guy known to draw walks. His speed has played on the basepaths, already swiping four bags. With Byron Buxton in tow for the Twins, Hicks is going to have to move to right field. If he can continue to play at this level or above for the rest of the 2015 season, the Twins should be happy to showcase his arm there.

There's no doubt that Buxton is the future in centerfield for the Twins. As good as Hicks has been defensively, Buxton should and will be better. Blistering speed and ball tracking skills unparalleled, the Twins are in for a treat when their number one prospect takes over in center. It's tough to argue that Buxton has been slow out of the gates down in Double-A. He's hitting just .259 and has been scuffling of late. If he can get a hot streak going however, Minnesota could decide to bring him up in early August.

As the 2016 season kicks off, I'd argue the ideal construction for the Twins would be to go Arcia, Buxton, and Hicks from left to right. Carrying Eddie Rosario as the fourth outfielder makes a lot of sense, and his seasoning in 2015 would be beneficial to him swapping in and out for Hicks and Arcia when needed. At this point, it would appear Torii Hunter would be coming back for another year, and that could throw somewhat of a wrench into the advancement plans. Hunter may see more at bats at the DH spot next season, and the Twins defense would no doubt be the better for it.

A detriment at times in 2015, the 2016 Twins outfield should be looked upon with favor. Hicks still has plenty of value to this organization, and talk of moving on from a 24 year old Arcia would seem to be a mistake. The Twins should start to see the fruits of their labor sooner rather than later.

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