Minnesota Twins News & Rumors Forum
  • Position Analysis: Left Field

    Likely Starter: Josh Willingham
    2012 Stats: .260/.366/.524, 35 HR, 110 RBI, 85 R

    Potential Backups: Darin Mastroianni, Ryan Doumit


    Since joining the Minnesota Twins last winter, Josh Willingham has been destroying long-standing conceptions in addition to baseballs.

    There was a belief that prominent free agents wouldn’t sign in Minnesota. Yet Willingham, coming off a big season in Oakland, came aboard on a favorable three-year deal that at the time looked like a bargain and now looks like an absolute steal.

    There was a belief that right-handed power hitters couldn’t consistently put the ball over the fence in Target Field’s spacious confines. Willingham christened his new home park with homers in three straight games, and ultimately totaled 21 jackjobs on the year at the Bullseye.

    There was a belief that Willingham’s historical durability issues made him a poor bet to stay healthy through a full season at age 33. Then he went out and set a career high with 145 games played, avoiding the disabled list for the entirety of the campaign.

    Terry Ryan has had a disturbingly high whiff rate on free agent signings, but with Willingham the general manager connected for a long shot into the left field seats. The slugging outfielder was everything the Twins could have hoped for in Year One of his contract, anchoring the cleanup spot through the summer while racking up homers and driving in runs at a fantastic rate. On a better team, he may have collected MVP votes.

    Now Willingham comes face to face with another conception: that a player aging into his mid-30s, coming off a career season marked by unprecedented health, will be hard-pressed to replicate the feat.

    That is undoubtedly true. Willingham’s first season in a Twins uniform was quite amazing, exceeding anything he’d previously accomplished in his career, and now he’s another year older at 34. But on the bright side, the imposing masher’s value comes more from sheer strength than speed or agility, and that’s not a skill that tends to deteriorate as much with age.

    Sure, he’ll probably have a tough time reproducing his numbers from 2012. That is the very nature of a career year. But prior to that season, Willingham had been a remarkably consistent hitter, so the smart money is on another .850 OPS, 25 HR type of season. The Twins will take that in a heartbeat.

    If there’s one area we could expect to see Willingham meaningfully decline this year (aside from games played) it would be his defense. That’s a bit worrisome since he’s already had his fair share of adventures in left field. It’d be no surprise if the Twins start plugging him in at DH more and more often over the course of the campaign, favoring younger and more fleet options in their ballpark’s expansive outfield.

    This brings us to the position’s depth, which is an interesting subject. At the outset of the season, Darin Mastroianni will likely serve as Willingham’s primary backup, but there are a number of moving parts that could come into play here. Joe Benson and Oswaldo Arcia are both prospects vying to emerge as viable MLB options at some point during the summer. Minor-league veterans Brandon Boggs and Wilkin Ramirez will be on hand. It’s not unthinkable that Trevor Plouffe could be nudged back to a corner outfield spot if he hits but his defense at third isn’t up to snuff.

    Any of those players would also be an option in right field, and that may be the more likely destination if Chris Parmelee ends up sliding to first. But, as mentioned above, Ron Gardenhire could become inclined over time to help his contact-heavy pitching staff by replacing Willingham in the field with a superior defender, and of course given his history there’s a good chance the seasoned slugger will be nicked up at some point.

    But make no mistake about it: Whether he’s occupying the area on defense or raining line drives with his ferocious pull-heavy swing from the batter’s box, left field belongs to Josh Willingham this year. And after his prodigious performance in that role last season, Twins fans should be willing set their conceptions aside and enjoy the show.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Left Field started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      I honestly expected to find a one-line analysis for this position. You did find some worthwhile things to say.
    1. chuchadoro's Avatar
      chuchadoro -
      "There was a belief that prominent free agents wouldn't sign in Minnesota."

      Were prominent FAs unwilling to sign with the Twins or were the Twins unwilling to pay prominent FAs? Maybe it wasn't the author's intent but the statement is loaded with Sid Hartman-esque delusion and blame deflection. The rest I found to be a good read.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by chuchadoro View Post
      "There was a belief that prominent free agents wouldn't sign in Minnesota."

      Were prominent FAs unwilling to sign with the Twins or were the Twins unwilling to pay prominent FAs?
      I made no allusions one way or another. What is clear is that, for whatever reason, it has been rare for remotely big-name free agents to land here. Willingham bucked that trend.
    1. chuchadoro's Avatar
      chuchadoro -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      I made no allusions one way or another. What is clear is that, for whatever reason, it has been rare for remotely big-name free agents to land here. Willingham bucked that trend.
      You are much more knowledgeable than me when it comes to the Twins and baseball in general. However, I do think it's fairly clear the Twins don't go after these types of players because they aren't willing to spend the money. The fact that it could easily be inferred as some inexplicable mystery is what bothered me.
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      If Doumit finds himself playing defense with grass below his feet -- other than in an emergency only -- we are not trying.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by chuchadoro View Post
      You are much more knowledgeable than me when it comes to the Twins and baseball in general. However, I do think it's fairly clear the Twins don't go after these types of players because they aren't willing to spend the money. The fact that it could easily be inferred as some inexplicable mystery is what bothered me.
      I think that's clearly the principal reason, but there are also deeper running narratives. Terry Ryan fed the fire with his comment at the winter meetings about how they "couldn't give their money away."

      The Twins are a last place team. Minnesota can be cold in April and September. The night life here isn't what it is in some other towns. I'm not necessarily saying there's merit in these conceptions, but they do exist.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ultima Ratio View Post
      If Doumit finds himself playing defense with grass below his feet -- other than in an emergency only -- we are not trying.
      He'll be put out there just because Gardy can.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      Willingham and Doumit are both DH's but you can't put both there at the same time. It is up to Arcia or/and Benson to force Willingham to DH or perhaps force the Twins to trade him. Parmelee clearly made it easier for the Twins to trade 2 CF's by hitting like he did at AAA. We will see how it plays out, but having Willingham, Parmelee and Doumit as the primary corner OF's will hurt the defense. Hopefully the offense makes up for it.
    1. tellis205's Avatar
      tellis205 -
      When the Twins signed Willingham, I'm sure there was a commitment to him to play LF and occasionally DH although it probably wasn't in writing. At the time, the Twins truly believed that they were going to rebound. If they didn't think that, they wouldn't have given him 21 million dollars for 3 years. The Twins have a reputation of keeping their word. I'm sure Willingham will continue to play LF and occasionally DH however when June/July comes around I can see a scenario where he's asked as to whether he would like to get traded to a contender. (although they don't need his permission) All players want to get to the World Series and at his age I'm sure he realizes that it's not gonna happen with the Twins since he's up in age already. My hope at the time is that he's having a great year and he can bring a good pitcher or two. Keeping Willingham and shelling out the remaining 10 or 11 million dollars doesn't make sense at this point in time since it's painfully obvious that we're in a rebuilding mode here. I'm am fairly sure that Mr. Arcia is going to be up at some point this year. He's ready. He was just coming off injury before getting sent down and he didn't have his timing down yet. They knew he wasn't gonna make the team out of ST so they moved him so he can get regular at bats every day now instead of playing every other day in big league camp. Once the regular minor league season starts I'm expecting him to pick up right where he left off at AA.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      When the Twins signed Willingham, I'm sure there was a commitment to him to play LF and occasionally DH although it probably wasn't in writing.
      I rather doubt this. You are not going to hamstring your manager in this way, plus I doubt if Willingham had enough leverage to make that sort of demand.

      This is an interesting topic, however. The Twins have 3 guys; Willingham, Parmelee, and Doumit, whose best position is DH. Parmelee can probably play 1B adequately, but he isn't nearly to Morneau's level. If Arcia and Benson can develop to the point where they can cover Willingham and Parmelee's offense, they make the team much better because of their defense.

      People have been talking about trading Morneau for awhile, but if he shows good health, I think the Twins will make a strong effort to resign him. Perhaps even during the season. That would make either Parmelee or Willingham trade bait. I don't imagine things will go down this way, Arcia and Benson aren't sure things, Morneau likely will opt for free agency. Nevertheless, Arcia and Benson having good years would definitely give the Twins some options that haven't really been available the last couple years.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.