Torii Hunter is back with the Minnesota Twins, but he won’t roam center field at Target Field like he did at the Metrodome, where he won seven gold gloves in a row as a member of the Twins from 2001-2007. Instead, Hunter will take a spot in right field as Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer battle it out for the job as Minnesota’s starting center fielder.
Hicks is easily the favorite to start in center field on Opening Day despite massive struggles over the first two years of his Major League career. He’s hitting just .201 in his short career but at times has shown flashes of brilliance at the plate and he is undoubtedly one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. Hicks showed a lot of improvement in pitch selection last year, drawing 12 more walks in 95 less plate appearances from his rookie year to last season.
When it comes to offensive production, Schafer isn’t that much of an upgrade with the bat. He is just a .229 career hitter, but hit .285 out of nowhere with the Twins last season after being picked up on waivers in August, while also stealing 15 bases in a Twins uniform over that two month stretch.
Unless he has a terrible spring, Hicks will probably be in the starting lineup on day one, but the job will come with a very short leash. Schafer will serve as the Twins top reserve outfielder, as he can handle both corner positions as well. With his speed and base running ability, Schafer will also be a strong pinch running option for Molitor.
There is still one major twist that can be thrown into this race; don’t throw out possibility that Danny Santana gets moved back to center field. Minnesota has created a position battle at shortstop between two young players who both impressed and turned heads last season, while in center field they have two players that have struggled to hit .230 over their careers. While Molitor insists that Santana will be used at his natural position, he did play over 60 games in center field last year and it could be in the team’s best interest to keep him at SS full time, even if it seems like an unlikely option right now.