The Twins made a few more cuts today, which is common during these final days of Spring Training. Joe Benson was cut and that is very disappointing to me. Benson is a player that I have been excited about for many years and a player who was given the opportunity to win the open center field job, after the trades of Ben Revere and Denard Span. Benson was not impressive this Spring. I don't put a lot of stock into Spring Training stats, but a .151/.286/.283 line with 15 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances is not something that wins an open job. He flashed power, but it was rare, and he was never in a position to use his speed on the bases.
Beyond the unimpressive stats were a few miscues in the outfield and a general lack of "seizing the opportunity" that he was given. Benson's demotion to AAA means that he will be out of options after this season. If he remains on the 40-man roster through the year, he'll need to make the team next Spring, or risk being released from the organization that drafted him back in 2006. I know that I did not expect Benson to be in this situation, especially after his call-up back in September of 2011.
That September seems like a billion years ago. Benson's 2012 was injury-plagued, or really injury-nuked. He missed a lot of time, and when he played, he wasn't very special. However, his return to AAA could be exactly what he needs. Benson should not have been considered for the 4th outfielder position. While he isn't young, he is inexperienced, and he needs to play every day. In AAA, he will play every day, likely in center, and rack up at bats. He needs to work on the same thing he has always needed to work on: contact. He strikes out far too often, which really masks the fact that he has great power and speed.
I still hold out hope for Benson, but my hope is waning. I see Benson as a player that either isn't concentrating hard enough, or is concentrating too hard. I'm not close enough to know which side he's on. He makes mistakes in the field, although he is a good fielder. He strikes out a lot, and seems to swing a bit too hard at times. If concentration is an issue, it can be worked on. He might still be rusty, after a 2012 season when he spent much of his time trying to get healthy. If he can get into a rhythm at AAA, he might get called upon later in 2013.
I think this move pretty much cinches the Opening Day center field spot for Aaron Hicks. Unless the Twins really like Brandon Boggs, it would seem that Hicks will start in center and Darin Mastroianni will be the 4th outfielder. Hicks will not be kept as a reserve, so he is the starter or he's joining Benson in AAA. I don't see that happening. I like Mastroianni in that 4th outfielder role and I am very excited to watch Hicks all year.
Getting back to Benson, all is not lost. He certainly has a long way to go, if he wants to get back into the Twins' long-term plans. He'll need to show that he can hit over .200 at AAA before he gets anywhere near Minnesota. He also will need to show that he can handle an outfield position, a task he certainly has the natural talent to accomplish. If Benson can basically do what everyone wanted him to do in 2012, things will be fine. If his 2013 season looks like his 2012 season, he may be with another team, come Spring 2014.
I wrote about Benson in more detail a few months ago. If you want to know why I am infatuated with what Benson could become, please take a look.