Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Torii Hunter's Departure Ushers In New Twins Outfield
In 2015, Hunter started 121 games in right field for the Twins. He contributed 1,035 innings, made 231 putouts, and added six outfield assists. On the offensive side of things, the fan favorite slashed .240/.293/.409 with 22 homers and 81 runs batted in. From a top down view, that's what the Twins are looking to replace. Broadening the scope though, there's some other factors at play with Hunter's departure.
As an outfield, Hunter has been a liability for some time now. He made a career high five errors, and had the second lowest fielding percentage (.979) of his 19 year career. Looking into the advanced metrics, the Arkansas native was worth -8 defensive runs saved this past season, and he owned a lackluster 0.3 ultimate zone rating. To summarize, Torii Hunter the outfielder is addition by subtraction for the Twins.
Going into 2016, the assume outfield configuration (or at least the one for the bulk of the season), should be Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Aaron Hicks from left to right. It wouldn't be surprising to see Buxton start at Triple-A, but he'll likely spend 75% of his season with the Twins. Despite having those three locked in, Minnesota has been afforded some other options with Hunter's retirement.
While Hicks has the ability to be a 20/20 guy if he can build of his impressive 2015, Rosario and Buxton are tougher to project. Buxton could still face some growing pains, and Rosario's free swinging tendencies make him a prime candidate to face some regression. With that in mind, the focus turns to who's behind the main three.
On what is almost assuredly his final chance, Oswaldo Arcia will need to impress. The defensively lacking outfielder didn't contribute anything significant to the Twins in 2015. Despite a hot homer stretch at Triple-A, his final average was actually below the Mendoza Line. However, Arcia is just a year removed from a 20 homer season at the big league level. Out of options in 2016, Arcia will be given every opportunity to turn the corner.
After Arcia, it's another intriguing prospect, and the Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year, Max Kepler. 23 next season, Kepler broke out big time in 2015. He slashed .318/.410/.520 spending 112 games with Double-A Chattanooga. With nine homers, and 13 triples, Kepler's power and speed combination is exciting. Having gotten a cup of coffee to end the 2015 season, there's no doubt the German wants to be at the big league level for good.
By retiring, Hunter likely saved the Twins from themselves. After playing on a one-year, $10.5 million deal in 2015, a similar situation was going to play out in 2016 had he wanted to return (likely for less money). Instead, Minnesota is afforded an open roster spot, and the position to integrate the talented youth providing outfield depth.
Going into the 2015 season, the Twins had far from a sure thing in Hicks, and Rosario (despite a strong spring) wasn't yet ready for the big time. Hunter manned the outfield with the likes of Arcia and vets Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson. This time around, it's the kids time to run with it. Behind the main three, both Arcia or Kepler can be included among the 25 man to round out the outfield grouping. Should Buxton start on the farm, it'll be Arcia in right with the 4th spot up for grabs.
At the end of the day, Minnesota has plenty of options to pick up where Hunter left off. Almost all of them provide a net gain in being better defensive fits, and the offensive ceiling should only be pushed as time goes on. Although the Torii Hunter era has ended, it's the best case scenario for Minnesota, and Paul Molitor has plenty of weapons at his disposal.