Is it too late for Joe Benson?
At the end of the 2011 season, Joe Benson had to be flying high. He just completed one of the best seasons of his professional career and he was rewarded by getting a call-up to make his major league debut. There was talk of him fighting for a more permanent role with the club in the future. It looked like the sky was the limit for young Mr. Benson.
For how great the 2011 season ended, it was hard to imagine how far Benson fell during 2012 campaign.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
He started the year at the Triple-A level and it seemed like one major injury to an outfielder on the big league club would result in him making a return trip to Minnesota. This was far from the case as he fought through major injuries and poor play for most of the year.
The struggles of Benson meant he ended the year back in New Britain. In 65 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit under .200 and the power promise shown in 2011 was almost completely absent. The front office for the Twins and fans following the minor leagues had to be left shaking their heads. This wasn't the way to follow a breakout season in the higher levels of a farm system.
Injuries were one of the biggest contributors to his lousy season. He missed time in the middle of the year with a broken hamate bone. Near the end of August an injury to Benson's knee would mean the end of his nightmare season. He would undergo surgery on his knee after going 1-35 at the plate in his last nine games with no extra base hits and 17 strikeouts. Something was clearly wrong with Benson and it was time to shut him down.
Baseball America has ranked Benson on the very edge of their top 100 prospects in each of the last two years. Prior to the 2012 season, he came in at number 99 and the previous year he sat at number 100. These rankings came after two very good seasons as he worked his way to the major leagues. After last season, there isn't much of a chance for him to finish in the top 100 before next season so he will have plenty to prove to himself and to the organization.
Preliminary Twins prospect lists for the current offseason have Benson ranked right on the edge of the top 10. Seth Stohs of Twins Dailyand myself have Benson ranked at number 10 in both of our lists. John Sickels of Minor League Ball has Benson down to number 12 on his list. To those ranking prospects, Benson's tools continue to stand out; he is a strong defender, he has speed, and he has shown power in the past. Those tools haven't gone away and the hope is for Benson to reemerge next season.
One of the toughest things for Benson might be the crop of outfielders waiting in the wings for the Twins organization. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia compiled great numbers last year at Double-A so they should both be waiting in the wings at Rochester in 2013. At this point, each of these players might offer more upside than Benson but Benson has already made his debut and he is older than the other two rising stars. It could be imperative for Benson to get off to a strong start or these other two men could pass him by on the way to the big leagues.
It's easy to look at Benson's 2012 season and brush off his poor play because of his multiple injuries. A healthy version of Benson could never look as horrible as the player that was on the field last year. He should be able to rebound in 2013 if the injury bug doesn't bite again. He needs to get back on track as soon as possible or Hicks and Arcia could start to take away from his major league playing time. Look for Benson to be on the comeback trail in 2013 but will it be too little, too late?