Torii and the Kids: The 2015 Minnesota Twins Outfield

Gone are the days where one of the strengths for the Minnesota Twins resided in the outfield. Well, one of the mainstays which hearkens back to that time is back, but is nearly 40 and merely a shell of his former self — at least defensively. By WAR, the Twins were No. 22 among outfields at 3.7. For some context, Baltimore was the runaway No. 1 team at 20.2, so there is considerable work to be done here.

But that leaf appears ready to turn in the very near future. The Twins have some very nice outfield prospects — one just happens to be among the absolute best — and a couple of the mainstays still have some untapped potential.

So what lies in store for this unit? Let’s go:

The Starters:

Oswaldo Arcia – LF
Torii Hunter – RF

Plenty of the misgivings directed as the outfield as a whole are directed at these two, though it is for good reason. The Twins were easily the worst defensive outfield in baseball last season, and this isn’t likely a good start. Hunter has tumbled from solid in center to mediocre in right while hitting each rung hard on the way down. He can still hit — 24th among OF in three-year wOBA over 1,000 PA — and the club believes he’ll bring something different in the clubhouse that’ll shake up a previously mortuous atmosphere. That’s all that’ll really matter to you, the fantasy player, who can probably grab Hunter in the late rounds of mixed leagues and see decent production. Leagues with OBP should take a step back from that.

Arcia on the other hand recently told MLB.com that he’s been working on his plate discipline over the winter. That would be a big boost forward to a guy with amazing raw power. Someone that strong should simply luck his way into a few more walks along the way, and that might be what we saw with his 7.6 percent walk rate last year. Arcia’s splits from 2014 are drastic; in the first half he hit .222/.312/.371 and after the break he hit .239/.290/.517 (.344 wOBA). That .290 OBP won’t cut it, but if he’s truly making adjustments that should bump up to maybe .320, which would be tolerable with a .500-plus slugging percentage. His September might be the biggest encouraging sign of all, as he hit .263/.330/.513 (.358 wOBA), leaving prospective owners salivating over if he could sustain that for a full season. He’s never going to hit lefties (.198/.261/.313 in 2014), but he’ll do enough damage against righties for you to grab him as a second- or third-tier outfielder, I would wager.

The Battle for Center:

Aaron Hicks
Danny Santana
Jordan Schafer

This is a battle the Twins desperately want Hicks to win. Still, after two solid years coming out of spring training, Hicks has hit just .201/.293/.313 across roughly a full season worth of plate appearances. Enter Hunter, who is expected to be Hicks’ mentor who can hopefully help relate to a player who was a lot like him when he was young. Hunter’s early-career struggles weren’t as prominent, but as toolsy, raw center fielders with first-round pedigrees, the two have plenty in common. Hicks played at Triple-A for the first time in 2014, and showed something there — .278/.349/.389 — that should still give the Twins some hope of salvaging his career. He still has an option left, but it seems more likely that he’ll be manning center on Opening Day for the Twins rather than the Red Wings. Hicks is hands off in fantasy at least in drafts. Monitor him the first few weeks as a contingency, though.

Santana is the primary insurance policy in center — with Eduardo Escobar filling in at short in this case — but he’s also a major regression candidate after posting a .405 BABIP-aided .319/.353/.472 line last year in 430 plate appearances. Santana is a career .278/.318/.395 hitter in the minors too, so that makes regression all the more scary. With his speed he can probably outrun the typically accepted BABIP ranges, but not by that much. He’s also not a particularly accomplished defensive shortstop, which could swing the pendulum toward center field if Hicks struggles again out of the gates. The nice thing for fantasy owners is that regardless of where Santana lands, he’ll have SS-OF eligibility. So if you do decide to take that second-year plunge — I wouldn’t — he’s a versatile chip.

As for Schafer, I’ll let what I wrote for 105TheTicket.com speak for itself:

Schafer had a decent run with the Twins (.285/.345/.362) which more or less breaks down into a fast start (.333/.405/.427 in 88 August plate appearances) and a very cold finish (.218/.259/.273 in 59 September PA). Schafer is extremely fast and has shown a willingness to take a walk not completely unlike his predecessor Sam Fuld, but he is not a great defensive center fielder and bewildered Braves brass and fans alike with his lapses in the field.

Twins fans had to wait all of three innings — Schafer’s first plate appearance — to see what that was all about. Schafer singled to right, stole second on the next pitch, and on the third pitch of the inning found himself thrown out at third on a grounder to short.

Ideally, Schafer is a fourth outfielder on a good squad and rarely finds himself in center. If Schafer starts in center, that could create a chain reaction where Hicks finds himself in Triple-A Rochester and Chris Herrmann makes the team as enigma insurance for not only Hicks, but Josmil Pinto. Don’t be surprised if that happens.

Depth:

Chris Herrmann – COF
Eduardo Nunez – ???
Shane Robinson
Eric Farris

Nunez is listed as an outfielder on the official MLB.com depth chart, but will likely shuttle between the infield and outfield as needed, which ideally would not be much. Nunez isn’t a good infielder, but he’s also not particularly good in the outfield, either. Herrmann could make the team if the Twins send Hicks back. That would make him a quasi fourth outfielder-backup catcher hybrid that would allow the Twins considerable flexibility. Santana and Schafer could still cover center, with Herrmann backing up the outfield corners and acting as an emergency third catcher which would ostensibly allow Pinto to DH more frequently, especially if Kennys Vargas’ plate discipline flares up. It’s not a likely scenario, but it could happen. Robinson and Farris face steep uphill climbs but could cover center in a pinch. If it gets that bad though, stay away.

The Kids:

Byron Buxton
Eddie Rosario
Max Kepler

Buxton didn’t make it a full game at Double-A before getting injured, though pretty much all of his injuries to date fall under the categorization of “freak.” He’ll likely head to Chattanooga and need some time to work off the rust, but once he gets rolling could find himself with the Twins by the end of the season. He’s unlikely to need much, if any time at Rochester. Buxton’s situation is perplexing for fantasy owners right now. If you’re in a dynasty he’s been owned forever, and in a redraft there’s really no appeal right now. My advice? Just monitor the situation closely. Center is the shakiest position on the Twins’ roster right now, and they have moved Buxton quickly when his body has cooperated.

Rosario had a nice stint in the Arizona Fall League, but that shouldn’t mask that he hit just .243/.286/.387 in 370 minor league plate appearances between High-A and Double-A last season. The fall run makes it look as though Rosario has shaken the rust from his suspension for a drug of abuse, and with a strong start to the season the 23-year-old Puerto Rican could find himself in the thick of things in center, too. Rosario has played 548 minor league games, with 181 coming in center. The majority came at second base, where he’s unlikely to find himself as a future fixture for myriad reasons. This could cloud Buxton’s ETA a bit, so keep that in mind.

Kepler’s on the 40-man roster but is quite a ways off in the distance. He hit just .264/.333/.393 at High-A Fort Myers, but a strong 2015 season would put him right back on the map in the outfield corners and at first base. He’s not worth rostering right now, but is a good stock to monitor, especially if he opens at Double-A, which seems iffy at this moment.

We hoped you liked reading Torii and the Kids: The 2015 Minnesota Twins Outfield by Brandon Warne!

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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MNzach
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MNzach

My season tickets are in the right field corner close to the rail. I can say without a doubt that Arcia was an absolute trainwreck out there. He actually made me pine for cinderblock footed Cuddyer. Arcia is particularly bad at playing balls off the wall. A physics major he is not.

Our outfield is a complete disaster.