Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Centerfield Trade Bait

The Twins certainly don't have a surplus of major league ready talent at most positions, such as catcher, third base, middle infield, starting pitching, and the bullpen. -- just to name a few areas of concern. But if there is one position where there is a good amount of talent, both on the major league club and in the minor league system, it probably is centerfield.

Is this a make-or-break year for Aaron Hicks?
Denard Span is an above average defender, and has matured into a good leadoff hitter. He was having one of his best seasons in 2011 before a concussion deralied him, but we hope he'll bounce back in 2012. He just turned 28, and is under contract for $3 million in 2012, $4.75 million in 2013, $6.5 million in 2014, and there is a $9 million team option in 2015 (with a $500,000 buyout). If Span is healthy and continues to perform, it seems like a reasonable contract. If Span plays in 2012 like he did the first few months of 2011, and shows that he is completely recovered from the concussion, it's also a contract that the Twins could move.

Ben Revere, who will turn 24 in May, is speedy and can track down almost anything hit to center field, but lacks an arm (not physically lacks an arm, but it's almost that bad); he is at best a good contact hitter who can wreak havoc on the basepaths, and at worst a player that will only get on base 30 percent of the time. Importantly, he is still under team control for the near future.

Joe Benson, also 24 this season, has the most potential for power among the centerfield group. He also is reportedly just a shade slower than Revere, which is impressive. He didn't look quite ready for the big leagues in his September call-up last season, with a .239/.270/.352 slash line, but he is still a very good outfield prospect.

Finally, there is Aaron Hicks, age 22, the Twins' first round (14th overall) draft pick from 2008. It's not an understatement to say that Hicks' star has fallen. Baseball America rated him the 19th best prospect pre-2010, the 45th best prospect pre-2011, and the 72nd best prospect pre-2012. That's not the direction Twins fans would like to see Hicks moving on the prospect charts. In 2012, he also vanished from Baseball America's top 10 outfield prospect list, which is not a good sign. All that being said, he is one of the Twins' top prospects, and he is expected to see a promotion to AA New Britain this year (at least according to Bill Smith).

My point in outlining these players is that, even if none ever become stars, the center field position is perhaps the deepest in terms of talent for the Twins. And interestingly, three of the four players listed are within roughly two years of age. Aside from Span, the veteran, we're talking about 22-24 year old prospects. Finally, Hicks is the only one without a day of major league service time, so to an extent (a small extent for Benson), they have been MLB-tested.

It's tough to imagine all four players being in the Twins organization two years from now. By that time, Benson will be 26 and will either be playing centerfield, which would be the best use of his speed and arm, or a corner outfield position. I have no doubt he's next in line for a promotion. Who knows where Revere will be? I still believe he can be a good (but not great) major league outfielder, but he will need to show major plate discipline this season, as well as the ability to bunt successfully. Hicks needs to have a solid and consistent season in order to regain his status as a Twins top prospect. And Span needs to stay healthy.

There are two things that excite me about this group of players. First is the prospect of having Span and Benson in the same outfield. I think it could be great defensively and offensively. The second thing is the prospect of trading one of these guys for something the Twins desperately need, such as pitching. It would be great if the Twins could make a "sell high" trade, if they come the realization that there are not enough outfield positions for the number of established major league outfielders, and legitimate major league outfield prospects, currently in the organization. Of course, we'd have to avoid a Wilson Ramos-type trade, but given these 4 players, the odds of that kind of an error in judgment don't seem quite as high.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts. If Benson is good at AAA Rochester this season, how long can we keep him there -- and whose place does he take in Minnesota? Could we get anything on the trade market for Revere? And if Hicks has a great season between A and AA in 2012, what do we do if he suddenly re-emerges as our #1 outfield prospect?


  1. I don't think you are almost never "selling high" when you trade a prospect. Tom Kelly used to say a player needed 1000 major league at bats before you knew what you had. A team trading for a prospect expects a discount for taking the risk that they won't pan out when put to the test.

    I think you are underestimating Revere, overestimating Benson and Hicks is the kind of player, like Joe Mauer, who will get a job when he is ready regardless of who is ahead of him.

    I would not pay too much attention to Hicks falling in Baseball America's rankings. It isn't unusual for a player who isn't an instant star to drop in the rankings as shiny new prospects gain prominence. New players get ranked based on their maximum potential and as they get closer to the major leagues evaluations start to get more realistic. The "next Willie Mays" becomes the "next Torii Hunter".

    1. Thanks for the comment, and fair points.

      For the record, I'm in the camp that likes Revere. I think that his exceptional range comes close to making up for the subpar arm. But he needs to mature more as a player, though, with respect to working counts and getting on base (bunting), before he reaches his potential, whatever it ends up being.

      Why are you lower on Benson? Admittedly he's not young, and he didn't look great last September, but I'd like to think that his offensive consistency (reducing the strikeout rate) can improve to the point where he will be able to earn a job by April, 2013.

    2. Revere will need to hit over .300 consistently to be an offensive force. But I think he can do that. Time will tell.

      From the sound of things, Benson's defense can get him a major league job. But I don't think he will ever hit a lot. All those walks and strikeouts against AA pitching do not bode well. A lot of those walks will turn into strikeouts against pitchers who throw more strikes.

  2. If any of the guys you mention are involved in a trade, I think Revere is the most likely one. Until Span proves he is back from the concussion by playing almost every day and returning to his old form as a good lead-off hitter, he will not bring enough in return to put him on the market. Benson will show more of his development by playing a half-year or more at AAA. We will then know better what his long-term prospects are with the Twins or elsewhere.

    I don't know enough about Hicks, not ever having seen him play, but I'd be surprised if the Twins were ready to give up on him quite yet, which is pretty much what it would be if they traded him during a year when the Twins' chances of success are not very high.

    One reason I suspect Revere could be trade material is Terry Ryan has not been all that positive when he talks about him. Ryan seems higher on Plouffe than Revere. Also, as you noted, Revere's arm is a real detriment to his being a regular unless he develops into a high OBP guy, which is still someone unlikely.

    So, I suspect that when Benson is ready, Revere will be shopped around for whatever the Twins might need at the time or for some longer-shot prospects.