Powers: Twins may have options to revive offense
By Tom Powers
St. Paul Pioneer Press
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins need a jolt.
Their lineup is peppered with plodders who struggle to make contact. They don’t steal bases, move runners over or give off any sort of energetic vibe. Yet Minnesota’s impotent offense has flown under the radar while everyone has obsessed over the awful starting pitching.
Not much has changed this spring. Basically, we’re looking at the same cast of characters. That’s not good. However, there may be a couple of options to add some fire, some pizzazz, to the lineup. One might not be ready; the other might finally be ready.
Shortstop Danny Santana is an electric player. He can make contact, he can fly, he is daring on the bases. Santana is exactly what the Twins need. The only problem is that he has yet to play above Double-A. Mention Santana and manager Ron Gardenhire lights up. He has been raving about him all spring and it’s not hard to figure out what’s on his mind.
“We do need a jolt,” he said. “We need something. This kid is lightning out there. You can feel it. That’s the kind of kid I’m talking about.”
Yet chances are Santana will begin 2014 in Rochester. Gardenhire insists, however, that he wants to keep him as long as possible this spring. Deep down, I think he’s hoping that Santana will be such an exciting and effective player that the rest of the world will come around to his way of thinking. And his way of thinking seems to be: He’d look great in a Twins uniform.
Again, chances are slim. Santana is still a bit rocky in the field. Yet that seems like a small price to pay to jumpstart a lineup badly in need of a shakeup.
And then there is Aaron Hicks. Try to erase last season from memory and remember what Aaron Hicks was supposed to be. Up until he jumped from Double-A to the Twins last season, he was a dynamic hitter and base runner. There’s no question he was mishandled as a rookie. But the choices appeared to be: Mishandle Hicks or go without a center fielder. And Major League Baseball gets irritated when you send eight guys onto the field instead of nine.
“I couldn’t have done anything different,” Gardenhire said. “There wasn’t anything we could do. We had nobody else. (Darin) Mastroianni was hurt. We had nobody else in Triple-A who could play center field. There was nowhere else to go. We tried and we looked and there was nothing.”
Gardenhire shrugged. He has a few more options at the position now, including Alex Presley. But a functioning, effective Hicks clearly remains his top choice.
“I’ve said that we need that kid to play center,” Gardenhire said. “We need him. He can throw, he can run, he can run the ball down. He’s got to hit. But with him in center, then I don’t worry as much about the guys on the corners.
“He worked with Rod (Carew) this winter. He’s come in strong. He looks strong. He’s sure of himself, I can tell you that. I don’t believe he thinks Triple-A is even a possibility for him. Never crossed his mind. We just need him to hit a little bit.”
Hicks calls 2013 “a learning experience.” Perhaps he learned that baseball can be cruel. He started at the top — Opening Day center fielder and leadoff hitter — and promptly plunged downhill and almost into oblivion. After hitting .192 in 281 at-bats, he was sent down. And then, after merely going through the motions at Rochester, he was benched. Suddenly, he was a minor-league sub.
Finally, as the Triple-A playoffs approached, the light bulb went on and a motivated Hicks got hot. Rochester manager Gene Glynn has said that Hicks was the team’s best player during the postseason.
“I had a strong playoffs and I hit really good out there,” Hicks said. “It’s just one of those things. You have to take it as what it is. It wasn’t the best season overall. In order to get better, you’ve got to move forward and learn from what you did in the past. I want to have a strong spring and continue into the season.”
Hicks has all kinds of talent which, in its own way, can sometimes be a detriment to a young player. He has so much ability that he never had to think things through. That lack of baseball sense showed during his rookie season.
But imagine him reaching his potential in 2014. And envision Santana lacing a triple and racing around the bases at Target Field in 2014. It may not all come true. But it might. And that’s what spring training is all about for managers, players and fans:
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