Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ranking the Twins Lead-Off Hitter Candidates

Some of the buzz of the Twitter world yesterday was surrounding the Twins and who should be the lead-off hitter when the team heads north from spring training. Ron Gardenhire would like one of the center field candidates to run away with the lead-off job but he had a surprise name as a back-up plan. With the ways things are starting to take shape, the team might have to get crafty with men near the top of the order.

Here is a look at some of the candidates for the lead-off spot. Some of the men have different traits that would suit him them for the job while other's would leave fans scratching their heads.

The Center Fielders
Either Aaron Hicks or Alex Presley will win the starting job in center field. Hicks is coming off a rough rookie season where he struggled in time at the big league level. In 10 games as the lead-off hitter, Hicks had two hits over 46 plate appearances for a .047/.109/.047 batting line. Presely was only with the Twins for part of the season but in his time with the Twins and the Pirates he had 41 hits in 146 at-bats including 8 extra-base hits as the number one hitter. His .281/.323/.370 batting line looks far superior to Hicks but the Twins still have hope for Hicks to turn it around. It seems more likely for Hicks to end up in Rochester to start the year and this could mean Presley is the leader in the clubhouse for the lead-off role.

The Second Baseman
Brian Dozier is coming off a breakout season where he set the club record for home runs by a second baseman. He goes into this season as one of the team's vocal leaders and he wants to establish himself as the second baseman for years to come. Minnesota struggled to find a lead-off hitter last season and this forced the team to turn to Dozier on multiple occasions. He started 74 games as the lead-off hitter last season and batted .253/.310/.462 with 38 extra-base hits including 12 of his 18 home runs. Ron Gardenhire likes to have Joe Mauer batting in the number three spot in the line-up so this could mean Dozier sees a lot more time as the number two hitter. If Presley or Hicks are struggling to start the season, look for Dozier to lead-off and Mauer to move up to number two.

The First Baseman
The Twins already moved Joe Mauer out from behind the plate this offseason and maybe this means it's time to move him to a different position in the batting order. As a career .323/.405/.468 hitter, Mauer has shown the skills necessary to get on base at a very high rate. In fact, his .323 batting average is the highest among active major league players. He will already be in the line-up on a more regular basis since he won't be catching so moving him up a couple spots in the order could mean more chance to get on base. Over his 10 year big league career, Mauer has never started a game as the lead-off hitter and that trend will likely continue this season. Gardenhire likes to have Mauer batting in the number three spot so he gets more opportunities to drive in runs. It seems more likely for Mauer to get a little time as the number two hitter but most of his at-bats will likely be out of the three hole.

The Catcher
Out of all of the men on this list, Kurt Suzuki might be the most unlikely choice for the lead-off role (even though Gardenhire mentioned the possibility of using him yesterday). He is a career .253/.309/.375 hitter with very little speed on the bases. Last season, he barely hit over .230 and his OBP was under .300. He's started 25 games as the lead-off hitter in his career but his .207/.258/.267 batting line is well below his career numbers. In his age 30 season, there is no reason to think Suzuki will magically be able to fit into the lead-off role. Even if the Twins were in a crunch for a game, it would seem more likely to put any of the other men mentioned above into the lead-off role over someone like Suzuki. 

Considering all of the things mentioned above, here is how I would rank the candidates for lead-off hitter at this point in the spring. It seems more likely for Hicks to be in Rochester than leading off for the Twins. Mauer and Suzuki would only be turned to as last minute options if an injury bug hit the team.

Ranking the Lead-Off Hitter Candidates
1. Alex Presley
2. Brian Dozier
3. Aaron Hicks
4. Joe Mauer
5. Kurt Suzuki

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