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Minnesota Twins: Best Defensive Center Fielders in Team History

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COMMENTARY | Center field has been a star-studded position for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins have had many All-Stars and just great hitters that have played in center field over the years. In the last 30 years, the Twins have been known for great defense in center field as well.

The Twins have had a couple multiple Gold Glove winners and others that probably should have won one or two awards for defensive excellence. The Twins also are developing a couple players for center field that have excellent defensive reputations.

One of them, Aaron Hicks, is already with the Twins and has made numerous plays to take away runs from opponents, including one Wednesday, June 10, against the Tampa Bay Rays in extra innings that extended the game. The other player, Byron Buxton, was recently named the top prospect in all of baseball by "Baseball America" and is considered by many to be better defensively than Hicks.

With two great center fielders in the organization, I decided to look at the history of this position and rank the five best defensive center fielders in team history.

5. Jimmie Hall (1963-1966)

Defensive stats from Hall's era are spotty and limited. The only modern defensive metric that goes back that far in baseball history is Total Zone's total fielding runs above average. However, Total Zone ranked Hall as the best defensive center fielder in the American League in 1963. He was second best in 1964 and fourth in 1965. He also was fourth in the AL in assists for center fielders with 12 in 1964 and second in 1965 with seven assists.

4. Denard Span (2008-2012)

When Span first came up, he was forced out of center field by Carlos Gomez, who the Twins had traded for prior to the 2008 season. Gomez struggled to hit, so Span, who had been playing mostly everyday as a fourth outfielder, eventually took over as the starting center fielder in 2010. In 2012, Baseball Info Solutions' run saved above average ranked Span as the second-best center fielder in the AL just behind rookie phenom Mike Trout. Fangraphs' UZR had him as the AL's best in 2012, although Trout did not qualify because he didn't play enough innings at the position.

3. Kirby Puckett (1984-1995)

Puckett is the first name that springs to mind when talking about great all-around center fielders in Twins history. The modern defensive metrics didn't always love the Hall of Famers play in center field, however it is hard to ignore six Gold Glove awards. Also, he was ranked as the AL's best center fielder by Total Zone in 1984 with 30 runs saved, and his rookie season might have been the best year defensively by any Twins player at any position. It certainly is the leading candidate for the best season by a center fielder for the Twins.

2. Carlos Gomez (2008-2009)

Gomez was with the Twins for just two seasons and couldn't secure an everyday job. However, his defensive prowess was unquestioned. In 2008, Fangraphs' UZR ranked Gomez as by far the best center fielder in the major leagues. Total Zone and Baseball Info Solutions both agreed that Gomez was well above average in both seasons with the Twins.

1. Torii Hunter (2009-2010)

Like Puckett, Hunter had years where his defensive reputation exceeded his actual play, especially after a devastating ankle injury in 2005. However, early in his career, Hunter was one of the best center fielders to ever play the game. He ended up winning seven Gold Gloves with the Twins and two more when he signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as a free agent. Total Zone ranked Hunter as the best center fielder in the AL in 2001 and UZR ranked him second to the Seattle Mariners' Mike Cameron in 2003.

Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.

Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.

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