Posted at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2009
by David Zingler
The only high profile battle in spring training this year is in the outfield. There are four men with the credentials to warrant a place in the line-up, but only three spots to put them. Here is a closer look at the foursome:
Michael Cuddyer - 30 - .249/.330/.369, 3 HR, 36 RBI
Skinny: Coming off of 2 strong seasons and with new contract in hand, Cuddyer was sidelined with a variety of injuries that limited him to just 71 games in 2008. The longest tenured Twin could become trade bait if the team falls out of contention.
Pro: He's the most proven commodity of the group and has stepped up as a leader in the clubhouse and the community. Cuddyer has a rocket arm and has the versatility to step in at other positions if needed. He comes into this season with something to prove.
Con: He'll make about $6 million in 2009 which places him among the highest paid players on a bargain basement team. Although he'll be just 30 on opening day, this is a youth obsessed team.
Carlos Gomez - 23 - .258/.296/.360, 7 HR, 59 RBI, 33 SB
Skinny: Gomez could wow you one minute and frustrate you the next. His up-and-down performance at the plate finally led to Denard Span becoming the lead-off hitter. Was he rushed to the big leagues in an attempt to justify the Johan Santana trade?
Pro: He's 6-4, 215 and can run like the wind. A fan favorite, Gomez has freakish athletic ability and the potential to become the best fielding CF in the game if his bat develops enough to justify his place in the line-up everyday.
Con: Gomez has horrible command of the strike zone. Just look at his .296 on-base-percentage. He often looks lost at the plate and if he falls behind in the count it's over.
Denard Span - 25 - .294/.387/432, 6 HR, 47 RBI, 18 SB
Skinny: Span proved he is the lead-off hitter the Twins have been lacking since Chuch Knoblauch was traded after the 1997 season. He didn't let an unfair spring demotion get him down and sparked the team's surprising season.
Pro: Span showed excellent plate discipline as a rookie and he should continue to improve. He also had pop in his bat, driving in 47 runs in 93 games. He's not as fast as Gomez, but he's got above average speed and is more than capable of manning centerfield.
Con: There really isn't anything bad you can say about Span other than the organization seems enamored with Gomez and will probably insist on keeping him in the line-up.
Delmon Young - 23 - .290/.336/.405, 10 HR, 69 RBI, 14 SB
Skinny: While Young did not live up to expectations in 2008, his season was hardly a failure. The off-season trade talk seemed to improve his conditioning and he should have a chip on his shoulder coming into 2009.
Pro: Young showed power late in '08, hitting 6 of his 10 homeruns after August 8. The former #1 overall pick also walked more (35 to 26) and struck out less (105 to 127) than he did his rookie season. He's still just 23-years-old and has two fairly successful big league seasons under his belt while most players his age are breaking into Triple A.
Con: Young's reputation took a hit after last year. There have been hints he is lazy and doesn't listen to coaches. These labels however, are common to talented young players who have been fast-tracked to the majors. Some overcome them, others don't.
I would like to see a starting outfield of Young (LF), Span (CF) and Cuddyer (RF). These three players give the team the most offense and, I believe, the best chance to win. I think Gomez needs more seasoning and should be sent to Triple A rather than warm the bench in the big leagues.
I don't see that happening though - Gomez will almost certainly be in CF. If that's the case, Span should play LF moving Young to RF - his natural position - with Cuddyer DHing against lefties and spelling Morneau at 1B.
Any other (better) ideas?
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)
Gomez was the best defensive centerfielder in the majors last season. His glove is needed with 4 out of the 5 starters and all but 2 relievers being flyball pitchers. I think going with: Span LF, Gomez CF, Young RF and use Cuddyer in a role similar to Monroe/Ruiz of 2008 but more extended (he will get about 450-500PA) might be the best offense-defense balance.
I think everybody plays. I firmly believe that while Gardy says he'll play Span, Gomez or Young at any position I think (and so far Spring training shows it) that Span will be the roamer and I think play in more games then any of the others.
My reason and it is unsubstantiated is that Span is most likely your defensive captain in the outfield. That role is usually played by the center fielder. On this team I think the role of defensive captain falls to the guy who thinks most like the coaching staff. In the infield that will be Punto (We all know that Gardenhire the manager likes Punto because he's Gardy the player with more talent). In the outfield I think it will be Span. Mostly because as centerfielder he's been taught to do that plus he's come through the Twins system. Also of the two centerfielders he seems to be more focused.
It will be interesting to see how this develops. I just can't see them sending Gomez down to the minors, because I think they fear what it might do to his head. But he needs to take a big step offensively to justify playing every day. Unless Delmon really gets off to a good start, I can see him being the odd man out, simply because he doesn't seem to be one of Gardy's guys. But if Young, Span, and Gomez all hit, I think Cuddyer will be traded at the deadline for bullpen help.
It looks like the Twins have themselves in a comfortable position of fairly young talent having to put forth some "real"effort to get a starting spot in this outfield. In true form, Gardy will give them all the opportunity to succeed both defensively and even more importantly, offensively. The ending of last season was disappointing with "the bats" disappearing at critical times in too many games. The bullpen has taken its share of the blame and Anderson will be called on to work some miracles with the present staff. But pitching can only take you so far particularly in late innings and extra innings. The Twins need more batting power and run scoring capability. Runs are what makes good teams great.