Other than the catcher and pitcher competitions, the Twins must assess the outfield options when full-squad workouts get revved up this week. The club believes that they have an idea on who will be the starting three outfielders, although some of them struggled at the plate last year. So, the bosses brought in two veteran players who will compete for a spot. In all, there will be eight players competing for four or five outfield slots on the major league roster. The outfielders must be better in 2017, and thankfully, Miguel Sano won’t be in the mix, as he has all but solidified the third base role.
The most likely outfield combination that will start the season is: Eddie Rosario in left, Byron Buxton in center, and Max Kepler in right. Those players have proven in recent years that they are ready to take the next step, albeit some struggles still show. After having 16 assists in his rookie year, Rosario had just 10 last year. The 25-year-old has a .292 career batting average with 17 triples. Twins minor league phenom Buxton has had a rough start to his career. When he came up in 2015, he looked lost at the plate, totaling 44 strikeouts in 46 games. Buxton showed some improvement last year, resulting in 19 doubles and 38 RBIs. He has proven to us that he has great speed and has the skills to be a great center fielder. Meanwhile, Kepler broke into the major leagues last year like a hungry chimpanzee going after a fresh banana. One of the other young hopefuls, Kepler steamrolled through 113 games, averaging .235 with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs. The 24-year-old also had 9 outfield assists last season. You are probably wondering if these three will be the starters, who is vying for back-up roles?
Looking to secure back-up roles are newcomers Drew Stubbs and J.B. Shuck, both non-roster invitees. Stubbs, who played for Baltimore last year, is an eight-year veteran. During his first 6 years, Stubbs had decent power numbers, although he has eight home runs in 2015 and 2016 combined. He also has a batting average of .244 and 283 RBIs, while racking up 39 outfield assists. Shuck, who has been around the league for five years, has very poor numbers. The 29-year-old has a career .251 batting average with just 8 home runs and 80 RBIs. Shuck also has 18 career outfield assists. I feel that Stubbs can secure a role on this team, yet there are more players who could take away Stubbs’ spot.
The dark horses that could squeak past Stubbs are Robbie Grossman, Danny Santana, and minor leaguer Daniel Palka. Grossman and Santana have spent some time in the big leagues, while Palka has never reached the majors. Grossman has been in the majors for four years, playing for Houston for the first three, and has averaged .254 while adding 100 RBIs. Santana has been with the Twins for three seasons and has been used as an utility player. He is listed as an outfielder this spring. He started off hot in 2014, hitting .319 in 101 games. However, the last two seasons were a disappointment, as he recorded just 35 RBIs. Palka has spent four seasons in the minors, with one of those in the Twins organization. The 25-year-old has immense power, as he has 94 home runs, and has racked up a .268 BA. One of Palka’s downsides is his 540 strike outs. If I had to guess, Grossman and Santana will lead this pack, while Palka falls behind due to his strikeouts.
The crowded outfield competition will begin Friday as the Twins take on Tampa Bay in Fort Myers in their first spring training game! It will be exciting to see who comes up on top, and if my predictions hold true. All we know is the Twins need three solid guys to roam the outfield, and I’m sure the players will be tested harder this spring then in years past.
Written by: Michael L. Sack