This Twin of the Future is also a Twin of the past. Joe Benson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft. He has tools. He has power, speed, an arm (yeah yeah, he has two, a good arm, smart guy), and he is a good fielder. The one tool he doesn't seem to have is the hit tool. Regardless, he showed enough in the Minors to earn a September call-up in 2011. He and 2006 first round pick Chris Parmelee were given some time that month. They were two completely different prospects. Parmelee was a 1st round pick who didn't really show much to get excited about. Benson was a 2nd round pick who flashed enough to be interesting. He was the 2010 Twins Minor League Player of the Year, after all. Well, Parmelee thrived that month and Benson floundered.
Benson's 2012 was about as bad a year as a prospect can have. Benson was sent to AAA after Spring Training. Had he been successful, he may have earned some MLB time around June or July (maybe earlier, I have no idea). Instead, he went the absolute opposite direction. He was so awful that he was sent down to AA, where he had already played over 200 career games. Instead of dominating the league as I am sure the Twins had hoped, he was terrible there as well. Then, he got hurt. Then, he came back. He proved he could hit in Rookie and A ball, then resumed being disappointing in a level much too low for a player of his experience. Then, he got hurt. Specifically, he had knee surgery late in the season, will miss about 3-4 months, but should be ready for Spring Training in 2013.
So, why even be excited about a guy who failed as a big leaguer (in an extremely small sample),
then seemingly regressed as a minor league player, then got injured a whole bunch? Well, those tools are still there. At his peak, Benson has the ability to be a 20 HR, 20 SB type of player, with some upside from there. He is a good enough fielder to play all three outfield positions, as he has the range for center and the arm for right. That player has a ton of value. That player has statistics that don't look super exciting, but ends up with a 5.5 WAR. That player reminds me a lot of Shane Mack.
Ok, all Mackness aside, as I am going to be writing about him soon. Benson reminds me of two current MLB players, depending on how things shake out. One is Jayson Werth and the other is Drew Stubbs. At his peak, Werth was a player with a 4 WAR, 20-20 HR/SB (sometimes more HR), and could play the outfield adequately. Benson is a better fielder. Stubbs had that same type of upside. He even flashed it in 2010, when he had 22 HR, 30 SB and played a decent center field. Stubbs has had issues with contact since that breakout year, with it all falling apart in 2012, to the tune of a 61 OPS+. Stubbs has major contact issues, and strikes out a ton. Werth only strikes out a lot.
So, which one does Benson become? Maybe neither. However, if Benson can cut his strikeouts down, he can have a Werthwhile career. If not, he might be too Stubby to last. Wordplay! It really does seem that contact and strikeouts are the key. His power did disappear a bit last year, but that could have more to do with the injuries. Knee surgery also worry me a bit, as it could sap some of his speed. Diminished speed would make Benson a lot less exciting. If the tools he has always had are still present in 2013, he jumps right back to the top of Twins prospect lists for me. I can't quit those tools.
He will be 25 (25!) when 2013 starts. 2013 is make or break time, and that might be an understatement. It is even too premature to label Benson a AAAA player, as he hasn't proved he can cut it in AAA. The outfield picture is only going to get more crowded, as Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia are likely ready for AAA themselves. Further down the line, there are even more talented outfielders to watch for. If Benson wants to have a career with Minnesota, he had better translate tools into performance, or he will be out of the Twins' plans.
It is entirely possible that Benson seizes an opportunity and wins a spot with the Twins in 2013. Terry Ryan recently said that no one is untouchable on this team. The Twins could go completely loco and trade Josh Willingham and Denard Span this off-season, in their eternal quest for good starting pitching. If that happens, a corner spot would seem to be right there for the taking. Benson is certainly good enough with the glove to make that work.
Will he hit enough? You can't steal first base, as they say. You also can't hit a home run while striking out. Or wait, can you? If so, that might be a sight to see. Unlikely. Anyway, Benson will have to make better contact and cut his strikeouts down. Some strikeouts are fine, but the 7:1 K to BB ratio he flashed in 2011 (in a small sample) will simply not work. Benson could be a late bloomer, or a player that simply needs a lot of at bats in a new league to adjust. If either of those scenarios are correct, the Twins should be patient. The payoff could be Werth it. I am so sorry.