KANSAS CITY -- The Minnesota Twins outfield has 32 assists this season, which leads the major leagues. And seven different players have contributed to the number, which is a reflection about the depth of their outfield, defensively. But it also can say more about the lack of productivity of their outfield, offensively. And things could be changing out there again very soon.
The latest change came on July 31, when Aaron Hicks was sent down to Triple-A Rochester for his struggles at the plate. Hicks is the minor-leaguer who skipped Triple-A and came straight to the major leagues. He struggled mightily with the transition, made a small resurgence to get his batting average above .200 but now has hit another slump.
All the while, he was playing fantastic defense in center field. Diving catches, robbed homers and producing enough of those assists to lead the majors at times during the season. But his bat needed a break.
"It looked like at one point he was going up the ladder a little bit, and now he's going right back down. A lot of poor at-bats," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The kid's trying, playing a great center field. I'm happy with that. But unfortunately, right now, his swing is not where he needs to be."
Oswaldo Arcia was called up (which has happened to him three times already this season). He is playing outfield with Clete Thomas and Ryan Doumit/Chris Herrmann. But those outfielders might want to heed Satchel Paige's sage advice -- "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." -- because it may not be long before someone comes up to replace them.
There is a triumvirate of players set to come off the disabled list, and all three were on the 25-man roster when they broke camp last spring. Josh Willingham is coming off knee surgery and began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester on Monday. He could possibly be back with the team as soon as Friday. The starting outfield in Rochester is Willingham in left, Hicks in center and Chris Parmelee in right -- the Twins' opening-day starters at Target Field.
In addition, Wilkin Ramirez, who had been suffering from a concussion, has moved up to Double-A New Britain for a rehab stint. And Darin Mastroianni, out since the beginning of the season following ankle surgery, moved to Rochester on his rehab assignment Tuesday. Suddenly, the outfield, which has had depth problems all season, will have more bodies than the Twins know what to do with.
"Absolutely which is good, there is nothing wrong with that," general manager Terry Ryan said about having some decisions to make. "Two of those (Ramirez and Mastroianni) have been out a long time. It would be nice to have a little depth."
Willingham will likely join the team in Chicago later this week, according to assistant manager Rob Antony, so the changes will begin. The good news is that with such a defensively deep outfield, the team defense won't change.