Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Position Analysis: Center Field

Projected Starter: Torii Hunter
2006 Stats: .278/.336/.490, 31 HR, 98 RBI

How long will Hunter be around?

Potential Backups: Jason Tyner, Lew Ford, Denard Span

For the last six years, center field has been a position that Minnesota Twins fans haven't had to worry about. That may change soon, but for at least one last season, center field is a pretty strong position in the hands of Torii Hunter.

Hunter is many things to Twins fans: he's media-friendly, he's emotional, he's perhaps overly outspoken, he's a hacker, and he's also loyal to the organization. Hunter isn't a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, but he's pretty solid. This year, fans shouldn't expect "Spiderman" Hunter in center field to making great catches. In fact, Twins fans might be wise to lower their expectations.

Hunter isn't the same guy he was in 2002 or 2004. His defense probably won't be subpar, but he has been passed by Grady Sizemore and Vernon Wells for top American League center fielders, both defensively and offensively. Hunter will continue to be a player with some good speed on the bases, plenty of power, a lack of patience, and a decent average.

This year, I'd predict that Hunter will have another good year. As with 2002, Torii is in a contract year and will have some motivation to put up big numbers again. I'd say a .285/.345/.500 line with 32 HRs and 90 RBI with 15-20 SB is a reasonable expectation. However, Torii may not be putting all of those numbers up for the Twins, as a mid-season trade is very possible. Also, expect Hunter to be his usual inconsistent self, having a few great months and a few long slumps, like his 2006 April.

As I wrote a few weeks back, Hunter appears to have a professional attitude toward the upcoming season despite the fact that he'll likely be leaving by the end of the year, whether it is through a trade or free-agency. If the Twins aren't in a position to make the playoffs in June or July (likely because of certain moves involving "veterans"), Hunter will probably be traded and that may be a good thing. The Twins will need some hitting or even pitching if they can't trust their young guys for a 2008 run.

If Hunter gets hurt or traded, Lew Ford and Jason Tyner will be around to provide depth. Denard Span is still considered by many to be the center-fielder of the future at this point, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him in a Twins uniform at some point during this season.

Needless to say, as Twins fans are well-aware, Hunter is good center fielder and it can't be denied that he at least has an effect on the clubhouse and the team. It should be another consecutively fun and frustrating season involving No. 48.