At the end of last season, the Twins had plenty of options in center field. Denard Span and Ben Revere spent most of the year manning the position. Darin Mastroianni made a good fourth outfielder because he could play center field when necessary. Joe Benson and Aaron Hicks were on the 40-man roster but there wasn't much room for them with the three others in front of them.
The position has certainly gone from crowded to sparsely populated in a hurry. As most fans know, Span and Revere were traded in the offseason in an attempt to add pitching depth. This left the club with no center fielder for opening day; that changed in a hurry though.
Hicks, Mastroianni, and Benson all battled in spring training to be the full-time starter. Mastroianni and Benson were a little dinged up but that didn't affect the outcome because Hicks put together some tremendous performances to earn the starting role.
Yesterday, news came out today that Hicks will be sidelined for at least two weeks with a left hamstring strain. Hicks' injury leaves the team in a bit of a jam. Mastroianni will be out until July after undergoing surgery on his ankle. Wilkin Ramirez had been another option in the outfield but he is still dealing with concussion symptoms. That's three center fielders on the disabled list.
The man left standing after all this mess wasn't even on the 40-man roster a handful of days ago. Clete Thomas was having a decent year for the Rochester Red Wings before he got called up to serve as an insurance policy for Hicks
. Since his promotion, Thomas has one hit in ten at-bats (.100) with a strikeout. In parts of four different MLB seasons, Thomas has hit .242/.322/.378 with nine home runs and 23 doubles over 482 plate appearances.
Of players on the active roster, there are three full-time outfielders, Chris Parmelee, Josh Willingham and Thomas. Chris Herrmann has backed up at the center field spot and Oswaldo Arcia will be promoted to take the place of Hicks. Ron Gardenhire might have to get creative with his outfield alignments.
There are no other outfielders on the 40-man roster. So what you see is what you get when it comes to men patrolling the grass of Target Field. An injury to Thomas before one of the other players is healthy would mean another 40-man roster move and another call-up from the minor leagues.
Antoan Richardson has taken over the center field duties in Rochester. This could make him the next in line to join the Twins if there is another injury. In 59 games between New Britain and Rochester, he has hit .314/.451/.386 with three triples and nine doubles. The 29-year old outfielder got a taste of the big leagues back in 2011 with the Braves.
If Richardson is not to be the guy, the Twins could look down to the Double-A level. Angel Morales will be taking over center field duties for the Rock Cats but he is just arriving with the club. The 23-year-old was part of the group of players promoted from Fort Myers after the team clinched the first half championship. Morales has no experience above this level so it seems unlikely he would be promoted to the big leagues any time soon.
When the Twins entered last offseason, it would have been hard imagining a situation where the club would be struggling to find a man to put in center field. Strange things can happen in baseball and this rash of injuries will test the depth of the organization. Thomas might not be the ideal man for center field but the Twins have to play with the hand they were dealt.
Even if it seems like the hand is a couple cards short...