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  • Twins 2022 Position Analysis: Center Field

    Nick Nelson

    In an offseason that saw the Twins reel in their biggest-ticket free agent ever, the most important move they made came from within: extending Byron Buxton long-term and securing the most talented, athletic player in franchise history.

    Center field is in good hands, with the usual caveats.

    Image courtesy of Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

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    Projected Starter: Byron Buxton
    Likely Backup: Nick Gordon
    Depth: Max Kepler, Gilberto Celestino
    Prospects: Austin Martin, Royce Lewis


    Outside of Mike Trout, Byron Buxton is the best center fielder in baseball when he's on the field. Since 2019, he's been worth 8.1 fWAR, ranking seventh among all players at the position in this cumulative stat despite playing only 187 games. No player other than Trout delivers more value on a rate basis.

    That's because Buxton is an elite difference-maker in all phases of the game. He provides top-tier defense at one of the most crucial positions on the field. He's among the fastest players in the majors, a threat to steal or take extra bases any time he's aboard. 

    I mean, this Statcast snapshot from last year says it all. Buxton tops the measurable charts in terms of power, speed, and defensive range. And the 28-year-old is trending up across the board.


    Buxton's new contract provides him with life-changing guaranteed money, but hardly diminishes his financial motivation to stay healthy and perform. His base salary for 2022 is $9 million, but he can more than double that total by meeting plate appearance thresholds and earning MVP votes. 

    Buck is not the type of person who needs extra incentive to push him, but it's there, and will be throughout the life of his historically unprecedented contract.


    There's no sugarcoating the fact that Buxton's injury history has defined his career up to this point as much as his superlative play. Last year was just another link in the broken chain, as a hip strain and broken hand cost him well over half the season. In both 2019 and 2020, Buxton was unavailable for the playoffs. 

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: a player is only injury-prone until he isn't. There's no reason that, with some (long overdue) better luck, Buxton can't play 140-plus games like he did in 2017. But the reality is that Minnesota would be irresponsible not to plan for his absence, making it all the more strange there wasn't (or at least hasn't been) better depth built in behind him.

    Sure, the Twins have Nick Gordon, who proved surprisingly adept in center last year despite having no prior experience. You probably don't want him as your regular in the event of a prolonged Buxton absence, but he's a handy backup. 

    For the purposes of injury contingencies, Gilberto Celestino might be an ideal fit. He's young, inexpensive, and very much a legitimate center fielder. But he was blatantly overmatched in his MLB debut last year (.466 OPS, -0.7 fWAR), and that impression will take some work to distance himself from. 

    Austin Martin and Royce Lewis could be eventual options, but need seasoning in the minors. Max Kepler apparently has a strong aversion to playing center, with the Twins inclined to accommodate his preference. Jake Cave is around still but ... no thanks. In light of all this, the Twins would seemingly benefit from bringing in another veteran outfielder who is capable in center (especially with Alex Kirilloff likely to be spending ample time at first). To this point, they haven't. I don't think Derek Fisher qualifies.


    The Twins hope to have Buxton manning center field for the next seven years. Realistically, they have to be persistently prepared for life without him. Their interim depth is a bit questionable, but long-term the outlook is bright with prospects like Celestino, Martin, Lewis, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Misael Urbina all projecting as possible options down the line. 

    That said, their immediate depth behind Buxton is questionable, which is quite troubling all things considered.

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    The idea that injuries are driven by luck is not scientifically valid.  Some humans are just less resistant to injury than others.  (I've linked the science on this before, I can dig it up again if needed) It has nothing to do with their athletic ability or any personal choices, just genetics.  "Injury prone" is not something the vast majority of athletes just magically escape out of luck.  People will say , yeah, but....Paul Molitor or Robert Smith!  Yeah, we remember the exceptions because the horde of dudes who had their careers cut short aren't as memorable.  

    I think our best hope with Buck is to have a good enough plan B and hope his inevitable injuries are short-lived and we only lose 100 or so ABs and not 300 or 400.

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    Thanks Nick for your work. We've got the best plan A in Buxton in the whole MLB at CF for many years. But we've got the worst plan B which would be plan F on many teams in Cave. I give an A to Gordon for effort but still he's no CFer. Here's a novel idea if we actually get and use a viable MLB CFer to sub CF.

    Here's to hope that Buxton stays healthy, not targeted or needs rest. Until Celestino, Martin or Lewis is able step up and man the position. Why does this FO constantly take these stupid odds?

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    Bye-bye Jake Cave, bring up Gilberto Celestino. His defense is good enough to cover any of the OF positions, taking pressure off Gordon, who should be practicing SS, 2B, and 3B. Nothing against Super Utility guys, but we don't need one. We have Celestino for OF, Gordon for IF. It's a good way to balance the package. 

    Caveat: We all know Celestino looked overmatched by big league pitching. Well, it's time for the young man to come to the plate with a real plan, and execute that plan. That said, if the Twins are thinking of bringing in an older veteran, he better be a good hitter. Otherwise, there's no point. Celestino already is an excellent fielder. 

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    Feels like the plan this season is for Gordon to backup the spot if Buxton needs a day off and hopefully have Celestino jump in if he's hitting and looks ready. (I'm personally hoping Celestino shows he's ready right away, because he's a great fit as a 4th OF, IMHO).

    Cave looks like he's a "break glass" guy this year: we'll only see him if someone gets an injury serious enough to move someone to the 60-day IL which would allow him to be added back to the 40-man. At least I hope so. He hasn't been good in too long for me to be happy about his presence on the MLB squad.

    I don't think the Twins want to see Royce at CF at all this year; this is the year they want to find out once and for all if he can handle SS. I think there's better odds of seeing Martin float in there if there's a rash of injuries. He can play the spot and should be ready to get his first shot in MLB by mid-season I think.

    We're better off here than we were last season, but if Buxton gets hurt for an extended period it will hurt. But that has as much to do with Buxton being such an elite player as it does with the Twins depth at the spot.

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    Have watched Cave and Celestino a handful of times this spring. Celestino looks lost at the plate, while Cave has consistently given professional ABs. Cave's job to lose IMO 

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    I wouldn't be shocked if Martin gets time in CF if Buck gets hurt and will miss long periods.....but I'd guess it is Gordon for now, with Cave in AAA for emergencies and Celestino needing to hit at AAA for some time before he's an option (long sentence, but you get the points, I hope).

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    15 hours ago, jimbo92107 said:


    Caveat: We all know Celestino looked overmatched by big league pitching. Well, it's time for the young man to come to the plate with a real plan, and execute that plan.

    To prove he is not good enough for the majors, like Jake Cave seems to be doing.

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    I cringe every time I see Buxton running full speed at the wall. Maybe they could pad the walls like gigantic pillows at Target Field. Or teach Buxton the Bo Jackson wall run


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    On 3/30/2022 at 11:48 AM, RpR said:

    To prove he is not good enough for the majors, like Jake Cave seems to be doing.

    Premature judgement. Celestino is quite young, still emerging from the minor leagues. Cave is a veteran, so we know what to expect from him. The book is not yet written on Celestino's bat. 

    Remember Tori Hunter? He was an easy out until he learned to lay off the outside curve. Twins sent him down at least three times to learn that lesson. Lots of people were ready to give up on him, because we all know if they don't explode right out of the gate, you might as well give up early. For some unknown reason, the Twins stuck with him. He was pretty good on defense... ?

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