Saturday, May 25, 2013

Joe Benson: Not a Twin

I had intended to run some errands this afternoon, but then I saw this tweet:

I was confused, but I knew this was an option.  The Twins needed a 40-man spot for the immortal P.J. Walters, and Benson has been injured or terrible ever since his 2011 September call-up.  Even in earning his 2011 promotion, he had basically played two full seasons at AA to get to Minnesota.  It is still a confusing move.  Then this tweet came along:
He was just outright waived, which pretty much says all you need to know about how Benson was looked at within the Twins' organization.  In a lot of ways, he probably earned his reputation, after failing to grow as a player since leaving AA.  Just take a look at how Benson has moved since September 2011:

September 2011:  Promoted to MLB, plays in 21 games, hits .239/.270/.352 and strikes out a lot (23-years-old, no experience above AA).  Benson was also fined by Ron Gardenhire for wearing a suit in the clubhouse.  This was a joke, but still extremely stupid and an event that lead to various eye-rolls from yours truly. 

Winter 2012:  Baseball America lists Benson as the 99th best prospect in baseball.

March 2012:  Benson is assigned to AAA, Terry Ryan has this to say:

"We just need to control the emotional part of his game; he gets a little excited," Ryan said. "We don't want to change his personality, I can tell you that, because he brings a little edge to him."

April 2012:  Benson gets off to an extremely slow start in Rochester, hitting .190/.286/.354

May 2012:  Benson is sent to AA New Britain, where he does not hit any better.

May 24, 2012:  Benson has surgery to repair his left hamate bone, which sidelines him for six weeks.

June 28, 2012:  Benson returns to active play.

July 16, 2012:  Benson returns to New Britain.

August 2012:  Benson returns to not hitting well, hitting .109/.169/.200 in 14 August games

September 2012:  Benson is not part of 2012 September call-ups because he needs surgery on his left knee, which sidelines him for four months.

March 2013:  Benson does not perform well in Spring Training, is assigned to AAA.

April 2013:  Benson hits .217/.278/.337 at Rochester, starts losing starts to Clete Thomas.

May 2013:  Benson hits .162/.230/.221.

May 25, 2012:  Benson is put on outright waivers by the Twins and claimed by the Texas Rangers.

That is a pretty sucky timeline for Benson.  Not only is he not hitting well throughout, but he keeps getting injured and he keeps falling further and further from the Twins' good graces.  I don't have many quotes or anecdotes regarding Benson beyond the two I shared at the beginning of the timeline.  However, it is pretty clear to see that Benson did not fit in well with this organization.  I really gristle at the Terry Ryan quote.  I understand the desire to control the emotional part of his game, but if that is something he has been trying over the past two seasons, it isn't working.  

I won't claim this move was made due to Benson's personality, but if it was, then I really don't like it.  I despise moves made based on personality.  I mean, I named by blog after Kevin Slowey.  However, there are definitely baseball reasons that justify this move, and I really hope that those were the only determinations.  

Getting back to Benson the player, he clearly has a lot to work on.  He isn't hitting at all.  Since he can't hit, he can't show off his good power and he can't utilize his good speed on the bases.  His inability to hit has landed him on the bench, which makes it impossible to display his excellent range, speed and ability in the outfield. 

It's hard to look back at Benson's 2011 season with New Britain and not be intrigued.  He hit .285/.388/.495 with 28 doubles, 16 home runs and 13 stolen bases.  At his peak, I thought Benson could become a 20/20 player with an OBP around .350.  When you add all that to his centerfield-quality defense and strong arm, the calculus is a great player who provides a ton of value.  None of that works if Benson can't put the bat on the ball.

A fresh start in Texas might be just what Benson needs.  He'll join a new organization which may not hold any of the preconceived notions and opinions that Benson may have earned in Minnesota (perhaps, justifiably).  Texas can already boast one outfield reclamation project in Nelson Cruz, and Benson is even younger.  Benson won't become a Ranger if he doesn't work on his hitting.  Maybe spending time with a new coaching staff will click with Benson and he'll work out the issues that are holding him back.  I hope it happens, as I think there is a solid MLB player within Joe Benson.

This was a move made out of necessity.  The Twins needed to replace some struggling starting pitchers and made the determination that Benson would be the odd man out.  Personally, I think there were better options, but I don't get to make those decisions.  In the end, it was a justifiable move, but a move that could certainly come back and haunt the Twins.  If Benson figures out the one area of his game that isn't working right now, he has enough talent and loud enough tools to "put it all together" and become the player the Twins obviously saw back in September of 2011. 

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