The Coming Outfield Logjam

Note – A slightly different version of this post appeared on Fan Friday at a couple months ago.

One of the strangest things about the roster this season is the absolute paucity of outfielders on both the 25-man (active) roster and the 40-man roster. The current outfielders on these rosters consist of the following: ‘elmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Repko, and a reanimated corpse. Er, Jason Kubel (you can’t fault me, he plays the outfield a bit like a zombie). That’s both the beginning and the end of the list. In theory, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, and/or Matt Tolbert (if and when he is in the bigs) are the secondary back-up outfielders. This notion is offensive to me, and I sure hope it is to people reading as well.

Of those “outfielders” on the roster, Jason Kubel is not an outfielder. He’s a DH that keeps getting pressed into OF duties because Gardy is incapable of not starting Jim Thome three games out of five and Gardy doesn’t trust ‘elmon. Michael Cuddyer’s ideal role is probably that of part-time outfielder and part-time right-handed platoon designated hitter. It’s hard to express how bad he’s been in the outfield the last few years according to UZR, which we now know was not an artifact of the baggie, as he turned in far superior numbers in the ‘Dome than on the road. ‘elmon Young is also beginning to look like his range in LF is simply not going to improve, regardless of his weight loss and slightly increased speed. He needs to be moved to RF ASAP (especially given the powerful arm we’ve witnessed), or else there’s a decent chance he’ll also trend toward being a part-time DH part-time OF. Denard Span is a great lead-off hitter, but his defense in center-field is suspect at best, as the last few series have pointed out. His arm is simply not strong enough to be a great centerfielder either. The big problem pointed out in this paragraph? There are simply not enough DH slots to go around, especially given the presence of Thome, who Gardy is driven to play three or four times a week, regardless of the painful obviousness of his reduced bat speed.

So, we really have about a sum total of 2½ outfielders on the roster right now, when you factor in the fact that Span is legit, and the others are partial outfielders. So what options are there right now? Well, in AAA, the Twins have currently stashed veterans Jacque Jones and Jason Repko, both of whom are playing pretty well, but are not good enough to take away the day jobs of the current outfielders. One of them would be a great backup outfielder on the 25-man roster, but given that neither are on the 40-man roster and the Twins have as of yet refused to make a move on the 40-man to accommodate the outstanding Anthony Slama, don’t hold your breath. (Note: Since this post was originally written, Slama was called up and Repko was added to the roster. Who knows what will happen w/r/t Repko when Matt Tolbert and/or Orlando Hudson come off the DL?)

So, that’s the current outfield situation. It’s certainly not ideal, and the Twins’ flyball pitchers have certainly been punished with the lack of outfield defense. But this is a forward-looking piece. The Twins have a wealth of great outfield prospects, several of which are nearing their major-league debuts in the next couple years. In fact, there’s a good chance we’ll have a major outfield logjam in the coming years! So, let’s look at the future!

  • Michael Cuddyer is under contract through 2011, as the Twins exercised his option for the 2011 series last off-season. I think the Twins will likely make a perfunctory move at re-signing him, so as not to anger the casual fans, who generally love Cuddyer, but will let him walk in the end.
  • ‘elmon Young has either one or two arbitration years remaining.
  • Jason Kubel is in the final year of a two-year deal, but there is a team option for $5.25 million for 2011.
  • Denard Span just signed a five-year contract. He’ll be here for a while.

Here are the up-and-comers. I’m only looking at the players that have a legitimate chance of being long-term starters for the Twins, so players like Jacque Jones, Jason Repko, and Jason Pridie. Those guys are at best backups at this point, with the possible  exception of Repko:

  • Aaron Hicks – The near-consensus number one prospect in the Twins system is currently playing in the Low-A Midwest League for the Beloit Snappers. He might be the best defensive centerfielder in the system, and has an incredible arm that was honed from years of throwing 95-mph fastballs. Can you say, “Position player pitching?” That said, he is only 21, and still has a long way to go. The earliest we’ll probably see him on the big club, barring a raft of injuries or an explosion in his numbers, is September 2012 or sometime in 2013. He is seen as a Torii Hunter/Kirby Puckett type player, and is likely the Twins next long-term center-fielder.
  • Ben Revere – Revere is a top-five Twins prospect, depending on how much stock you put in the dismal reports of his defense. Revere is really, really fast, but his arm is suspect, and he uses his speed to compensate for the fact that he takes some incredibly strange routes to get to the ball (remind you of anyone? GoGo (minus the arm strength)?) That said, Revere might be the best hitter in the Twins system. He has little power, but he hits for an insane average; he flirted with hitting .400 in 2008, and even though his triple-slash stats declined in 2009, that is to be expect in the (extremely) pitcher-friendly atmosphere of the 2009 Florida State League. Right now Revere is in AA New Britain, and might be the most likely call-up in the event of a serious injury to Denard Span. The problem with Revere is his lack of power and arm strength. He may not have the arm strength to play in CF long-term, but doesn’t have the power to take a corner outfield role (but then again, the Twins have put little stock in the traditional hitting requirements for corner positions; for cripes’ sake, Punto is STILL playing 2B).
  • Angel Morales – When Morales was drafted in 2007, he was seen by many to be a light-hitting outfielder with incredible speed and great defense. To the surprise of many, including yours truly, he turned into possibly the best power prospect the Twins have had since Jason Kubel. Morales will be in Class A Fort Myers this season, and should stay there all year. We could see him in a Minnesota Twins uniform as soon as 2012 if he continues at his current pace, and manages to curb his (excessive) strikeout rate. A constant comparison I have heard is Carlos Beltran, and if he continues, he could be the next great Puerto Rican MLB player.
  • Rene Tosoni – The MVP of last year’s Futures Game follows Justin Morneau in the Twins’ Canadian ranks. Tosoni is arguably the most complete and ready player of the ones I’ll mention here, but he also probably doesn’t have a long-term role with the Twins, due to the high level of competition on this list. I’d be surprised if we don’t see Tosoni this season at some point, most likely in September. He’s a definite candidate to be added to the 40-man roster at some near point in the future. Tosoni has trouble with left-handed pitching, and could be a very good number 2, 5, or 6 hitter in the future against righties. I fully expect Tosoni to be traded in the next two years, and he could yield a decent position player or a good pitching prospect in return. That said, you never know.
  • Joe Benson – The last prospect I’ll look at today is Benson. I don’t know as much about Benson, but many people rank him as the third-best outfield prospect in the Twins system after Aaron Hicks and Angel Morales, due to Revere’s problems. Revere has very good on-base numbers, and isn’t a slouch in the power department. We could see him in 2012, if he isn’t traded or doesn’t get injured (like he did after breaking his hand/wrist after punching a concrete wall in 2009).

So where does the outfield go in the future? Here are my guesses, and I’d sure be interested to see what you all think in the comments (in the order of LF, CF, and RF):

2010: ‘elmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer

2011: Denard Span, Ben Revere, Michael Cuddyer (I think Young gets traded this off-season for something long-term at 2B or 3B).

2012: Denard Span, Ben Revere, Angel Morales

2013: Denard Span, Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales (Revere traded).

Any further out is impossible to predict. What do you think?


5 Responses

  1. I’d rather trade Kubel and have Delmon and Cuddyer split time at DH and rotate through the OF and in Cuddyer’s case the infield too. Gradually work in some rookies who have a little more defense.

    • Part of me thinks that Kubel’s option won’t get picked up after this season, thus relegating Cuddyer or ‘elmon to the DH role at least some of the time. Wishful thinking, maybe.

  2. It seems you severly overvalue batting average.

    Thome has an OPS of .914

    Revere is probably nothing more that another Juan Pierre.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I love Jim Thome, and he provides a lot of punch as a pinch hitter. But with a healthy Morneau, Kubel should never play the field, unless it’s a right-handed pitcher that Delmon has been terrible against. I think part of the reason for Kubel’s trouble this year has been the fact that Thome steals so many at-bats from him.

      If Revere becomes good Juan Pierre (he’s been very hit or miss), I’d be happy with it. He’d be a very good leadoff hitter, especially if Span continues his struggles.

  3. I like Kubel, but we have LH hitters in Morneau and Mauer. Other than Cuddyer, we are lacking in RH power. I would like to see Delmon get a 3 or 4 year contract and start at DH for the foreseeable future. I agree that he and Cuddyer can split time in the OF with the usual lineup consisting of: Span, Revere and Repko (I think he can be a starter, giving a game here or there to Cuddyer and Young). Am I crazy to think Repko is a semi-long term option? He and Revere would only be place holders for Hicks and Morales.

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