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Article: Position Battle: Center Field

byron buxton danny santana eddie rosario
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 09:25 AM

From Denard Span to Aaron Hicks to Jordan Schafer, the Opening Day center field assignment has been a bit of a revolving door for the Twins in recent years. There will be a new name added to that list in 2016, and several contenders are lined up to take a shot at it in Ft. Myers.

This figures to be the most compelling battle that will unfold in spring training.After turning a corner offensively and finally posting respectable numbers at the plate last year, Hicks appeared to be the front-runner to open the 2106 season in center field, unless Byron Buxton were to seize the job in spring training. With Hicks being traded to the Yankees back in November, the Twins are now prepared to enter camp with a wide open competition at the position.

Today we will look at the relative strengths of each candidate.

Why Byron Buxton Will Win The Job

Because the Twins want him to. That much seems fairly clear. Historically, Buxton has endured a learning curve at each new level before adapting and thriving, and that's what the club is hoping to see here. Buxton remains ranked as the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball according to such outlets as MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, showing that his rough debut as a 21-year-old in 2015 didn't too much to diminish his luster. Everyone still recognizes his transcendent skills, and the impact those skills can make on the baseball field.

The Twins are counting on Buxton this year. Their quiet offseason was driven largely by the belief that improving young players will push the team forward, and Buxton is at the head of that movement. Ideally, he will demonstrate obvious adjustments in spring training and he'll be playing alongside fellow building block Miguel Sano in the outfield from Opening Day.

One key here is that Buxton fills a role in the lineup where Minnesota lacks an obvious answer: leadoff. Presuming he makes the proper strides with his plate approach, Buck profiles perfectly for that spot, with his game-changing speed and .383 on-base percentage in the minors.

Why Danny Santana Will Win The Job

As much as the Twins (and the rest of us) may want Buxton to win the job, there simply wasn't much indication last year that he was ready for it. Terry Ryan admitted to calling up the top prospect sooner than he would have liked, and the 21-year-old was clearly overwhelmed by the challenge, batting .209 with an ugly 44-to-6 K/BB ratio.

Buxton is still very young, and has only 13 games worth of experience at Triple-A, so I actually think the odds are higher that he opens in Rochester than Minnesota. In this scenario, Santana is probably the odds-on favorite to land the center field job on Opening Day.

There are a number of factors feeding into this. Santana already has some experience playing center in the big leagues, having performed well there as a rookie in 2014. His dynamic speed would be welcome in the lineup with Buxton gone. And Santana is out of options, meaning the Twins need to find a place for him one way or another.

Of course, Santana was also flat-out terrible last year, finishing with a .532 OPS that was actually substantially worse than Buxton's. But knowing that it's a temporary gig, and that Santana gives them arguably their best defensive outfield alignment in the absence of Buxton, I could easily see the Twins giving him a shot and hoping he can recapture some the production he yielded as a center fielder two years ago.

Why Eddie Rosario Will Win The Job

Last spring, Rosario lasted deep into camp as a contender for the center field job, as Paul Molitor viewed him as a very legitimate option at the position. It's where Rosario spent most of his time in the minors, and he certainly has the speed and range to hold his own there. Shifting him to center would allow Minnesota to surround him with bat-first players in the corner spots (say, Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia), bolstering the lineup and also relieving the roster crunch a bit.

But the problem is that Rosario isn't an ideal fit in center, and whoever replaces him in left will be a vast downgrade. The Twins would be making huge defensive sacrifices with this plan, and given that they're already experimenting with Sano in right, it's hard to see them going down that road. Those poor pitchers.

Others In The Mix: Ryan Sweeney, Darin Mastroianni, Joe Benson

Did the Twins sign all of these players to minor-league deals as organizational depth, or as backup plans in the event that none of the three options listed above work out? We'll find out, I guess.

Last spring, both Rosario and Hicks were bypassed by a platoon of Jordan Schaefer and Shane Robinson in center field. Going with Mastroianni, Sweeney or Benson would represent a similar approach: stick a body out there with some experience who can run around and catch the ball, until one of the kids proves ready to take over.

It would be disappointing to see the Twins go this route a second year in a row but it wouldn't be shocking.

I would rate Sweeney as the front-runner from this group -- both as the long shot center field contender and as a candidate to make the roster as fifth outfielder -- because he has the most MLB experience by far. But he also didn't play last year and has barely hit in the last five.

Who do you envision in center field on Opening Day? And where will they be hitting in the lineup?

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#2 tobi0040

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 09:34 AM

Danny Santana will win the job and Buxton will start in AAA.I would be surprised if Danny was on the roster in June.

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#3 terrydactyls1947

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 09:36 AM

Let Buxton have center field from day 1. His defense alone makes it worth while and when he adjusts to ML pitching, he'll be there for years.
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#4 theBOMisthebomb

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 10:02 AM

The future is now. Buxton gets the CF job out of spring training. Now if there was only a way to convince Molly to bench Mauer...
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#5 Vanimal46

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 11:19 AM

 

Danny Santana will win the job and Buxton will start in AAA.I would be surprised if Danny was on the roster in June.

If this scenario were to take place, which I sincerely hope it doesn't, it would be because Buxton has a god awful ST. I think the job is Buxton's to lose, and the only way he does is if he has a .125 or lower BA, and strikes out over half of the time. 


#6 Kwak

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 11:19 AM

Instead of cut and paste--I summarize:  The entire first paragraph of the Rosario section supports why he is a viable candidate to be the Twins starting CF in April.  Then a sentence fragment dismisses him as "less than ideal..."  without any supporting evidence.  Huh?  If the ideal is Griffey Jr. or Trout, or Willie Mays clones--then at least say so--rather than leave us dangling with an empty "less than ideal".  In that scenario, every Twins CF candidate is "less than ideal"  (and everybody knew that) but still is  a very good choice.  Given that "a good look" is likely for certain players for the corner OF (before deciding said player belongs someplace else than in the Twins OF) Rosario is the best option to accomplish all of the following:  have a viable CF to start the season, "season"  Buxton in Rochester, give suitable "looks" to these "bat first" (IMO "bat only") players in RF and LF.


#7 Trevor0333

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 11:19 AM

It's Buxton's job to lose, as long Buxton doesn't completely fall apart or get injured. Santana will be the backup CF & utility guy putting Nunez on the bubble.

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#8 dxpavelka

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 11:25 AM

Buxton's the best defensive option and, as such, should be the odds on favorite because of 4 little words:Corner outfielder Miguel Sano.

 


#9 stringer bell

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 11:52 AM

I think Buxton has the inside track for CF. However, I expect him to struggle enough at the plate that he ends up hitting ninth for a while. If in doubt the Twins should hit him down in the order to take some pressure off the young man.

#10 DocBauer

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 11:55 AM

Buxton. Because of his talent. Because we need him. Because he doesn't have to play at an all-star or ROY level initially to be beneficial. And because he looked much better at the end of last season after his return.
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#11 Trevor0333

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 11:57 AM

 

Instead of cut and paste--I summarize:  The entire first paragraph of the Rosario section supports why he is a viable candidate to be the Twins starting CF in April.  Then a sentence fragment dismisses him as "less than ideal..."  without any supporting evidence.  Huh?  If the ideal is Griffey Jr. or Trout, or Willie Mays clones--then at least say so--rather than leave us dangling with an empty "less than ideal".  In that scenario, every Twins CF candidate is "less than ideal"  (and everybody knew that) but still is  a very good choice.  Given that "a good look" is likely for certain players for the corner OF (before deciding said player belongs someplace else than in the Twins OF) Rosario is the best option to accomplish all of the following:  have a viable CF to start the season, "season"  Buxton in Rochester, give suitable "looks" to these "bat first" (IMO "bat only") players in RF and LF.

 

 

I can't speak for the OP but I felt like part of Rosario not being ideal in Cf is that means he is not in LF and it's a Arcia/Rosario/Sano OF and that is scary.

Edited by Trevor0333, 08 February 2016 - 12:03 PM.

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#12 Nick Nelson

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 12:07 PM

 

Instead of cut and paste--I summarize:  The entire first paragraph of the Rosario section supports why he is a viable candidate to be the Twins starting CF in April.  Then a sentence fragment dismisses him as "less than ideal..."  without any supporting evidence.  Huh? 

I'm simply referring to the fact that Rosario is better suited for a corner spot than center field defensively. That's not a novel statement; I think most scouts and team officials would agree. 

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#13 sthpstm

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 12:08 PM

Why is Joe Benson mentioned here, or in any thread, as any type of Major League option?  How many accounts does he have on this site that he keeps peddling his name as anything other than a potential interesting Minor League project?

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#14 Mike Sixel

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 12:30 PM

I like Rosario staying in LF, because by June, he will be the LFer for sure. Why move him around?

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It's been a fun year so far, GO Twins. 


#15 James Richter

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 12:35 PM

Buxton's 1st 99 PA: .194/.235/.269, .305 BABIP, 34/4 K/BB

After (39 PA): .250/.289/.472, .292 BABIP, 10/2 K/BB

Last 6 GS (23 PA): .333/.391/.714, .357 BABIP, 5/1 K/BB

 

All SSS caveats apply, but there's a very positive trend there for him over the final weeks of the season. He's got the wheels to sustain a BABIP well over .300 (as he did in the minors). He's clearly going to provide the most defensive value and should be a terror on the bases. I think they should run him out there in April (starting in the #9 spot) and see how it goes...

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#16 Homer Hanky

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 12:35 PM

I'm still scared to death of a "gapper"... hit between Buxton and Sano... Buxton easily tracks it down but Sano does not hear him call for it... and Sano takes out Buxton and they both are hurt all year! --- 

 

Is there any realistic solution for this to not happen... that does not involve Buxton in AAA all year... 

 

What if we did the unthinkable... and traded Park for pitching? Thots?

 

 


#17 scottz

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 12:49 PM

Buxton in CF, Rosario in LF, RF rotating door depending on who is pitching and who else is playing where. RF might be Sano regularly based on what the team keeps saying, but I can't bring myself to type that in there just yet because it seems like such a weird thing to me.

 

Arcia will have some RF days and some DH days, hopefully to crush the living poo out of baseballs thrown by right handed pitchers. Danny Santana will be in the OF on occasion, too, hopefully not showing last year's .532 OPS.


#18 spinowner

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 01:01 PM

The Rosario/Santana/Buxton situation reminds me a lot of the Jacque Jones/Torii Hunter situation in about 1999 or 2000. Jones played somewhat out of position in center during Hunter's stints in AAA. I can see the same thing happening with Rosario and/or Santana covering center until Buxton comes up for good. And, as I've said in the past, the Twins need to do what's best for Buxton. The Twins did him no favors by calling him up too soon last season. If putting him at AAA is what TR and PM think is best for him this April then that's what should happen, even if that means the team struggles on the big league level while he develops.


#19 jimbo92107

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 01:24 PM

The sooner we get to Rosaro, Buxton, and Kepler, the better. Meanwhile, I have no objections to Buxton and Kepler starting in AAA, where they can get some finishing school on their hitting. 

 

While that's going on, I'd have Santana in CF, and platoon Arcia and everybody else around the outfield. If Arcia starts to hit, great. If not, out he goes around mid season.

 

Not even sure what to do with Park. If he hits in spring training, is that real? If he's catching up to heaters, I'd be tempted to find a spot on the MLB roster. Otherwise a little while in AAA couldn't hurt, while he crams with an English phrase book. 

 

Rochester's liable to have a real lumber company in the outfield. Yay!

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#20 Vanimal46

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 01:28 PM

 

I think Buxton has the inside track for CF. However, I expect him to struggle enough at the plate that he ends up hitting ninth for a while. If in doubt the Twins should hit him down in the order to take some pressure off the young man.

That is a wise and reasonable take. Isn't that the usual route that most future top of the order hitters take? I'm perfectly fine with Buxton setting the table for the top of the order hitters this season, and hope he evolves to be the future lead-off or #3 hitter in the lineup 1-3 years down the road. 

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