The writing had been on the wall for some time: Denard Span was unlikely to be long for Minnesota. And while the earliest rumors — dating back some 15ish months — suggested the Twins were looking at a package of Drew Storen and Roger Bernadina, the Twins wisely waited until Span proved healthy and got a relatively good return in exchange for the talented, young, and cost-controlled centerfielder.
But the trade of Ben Revere was entirely shocking. The Twins seemed to feel strongly about Revere, and he them, and he wasn’t on the verge of making more money. In fact, Revere would have probably been among the least likely to be dealt at the outset of the offseason if one asked local Twins scribes. In the mind of the writer, it was a good time to maximize the return on his value.
But the Twins are left with a gaping hole in center. Today, let’s take a peek at the options to fill that hole, and their fantasy implications.
Darin Mastroianni: The Twins plucked Mastroianni from the Blue Jays after 2011 and it turned out quite well. He does strike out a fair share, but he showed very good plate discipline, swinging at fewer than a quarter of pitches out of the zone — this will be a hard act to follow — while making plenty of contact (85.3 percent). He’s a fast guy who hits the ball on the ground — 1.8 GB/FB rate — which allows him to maximize the value of his speed. Of course, 21 stolen bases in under 200 plate appearances might be tough to sustain — read: not happening — but it seems as though Terry Ryan had an ace in the hole when he dealt both of his de facto centerfielders.
Mastroianni was worth 1.5 WAR in under 200 plate appearances. I’m no master of regression, and I know he can’t keep up that pace, but if he starts most of the season in center, it’s hard not to see him as a real-life and fantasy asset. The defense — 9.8 runs above replacement — will help. The Twins are notoriously slow with promoting prospects, and it doesn’t look like Aaron Hicks is quite ready to help, so look for Mastroianni to start in center and maybe transition to a fourth outfielder/part-time player job around midseason if Hicks starts out hot in Rochester. So, draft Mastroianni late, flip him early, and reap the benefits. In the worst case, if full-time duty exposes him, you won’t have spent a big pick on him, and he’ll still probably rack up the steals.
Aaron Hicks: Hicks is a toolsy Twins outfielder — stop me if you’ve heard that before — who projects to fit well in center. He’s extremely fast, has a rocket of an arm — projected as a high draft choice as a pitcher as well — and has a very good approach at the plate. Every step of the way Hicks has maintained a mid-teens walk rate, but there’s one key difference. Once widely-panned for his at times passive approach, Hicks cranked it up a notch on the offensive front, poking 45 extra-base hits last season in New Britain (Double-A) in addition to stealing a career-high 32 bases, scoring 100 runs, and bringing his ISO to a healthy .173. If Hicks breaks camp with the Twins, don’t expect much. The Twins have slow played his development all the way up the ladder, and rarely have players debut while skipping Triple-A entirely (Joe Mauer, Joe Benson, and Chris Parmelee are the only ones who come to mind immediately). And when he comes up, he’s still no guarantee to post a ton of value. I’d say he’s probably hands-off this year in anything other than ultra deep leagues, but could be a cheap source of steals at some point this season.
Joe Benson: Benson hasn’t succeeded at Triple-A at all, and missed much of a terrible 2012 season with a hamate injury. He’s a total wild card at this point, with the only thing guaranteed being strikeouts.
Free Agent Options: The only free agent option I can see the Twins viably chasing would be Nyjer Morgan. However, Morgan’s personality would seriously clash with the Twins, so I don’t see a marriage being possible here.
In other words, draft Mastroianni low, keep an eye on Hicks on waivers (whether you draft Mastroianni or not), but don’t count on Hicks or Benson as anything other than lottery tickets.