Yesterday, Jesse touched on the possibility of Eddie Rosario being the starting center fielder for the Twins on Opening Day. Once considered a long shot and likely not even an option before this spring training, it sure seems like Rosario has leapfrogged his way into the discussion thanks to a solid Arizona Fall League showing. His early power outburst (1 double, 1 triple, 2 home runs) has done nothing to slow his ascent to the majors, either.
Yet in spite of his recent success, I just cannot find a way in which Rosario actually makes the club over Aaron Hicks. For one, he hasn't reached Triple-A yet and he didn't shine when he repeated Double-A last year after his suspension. He doesn't walk, so his offensive production will be tied solely to the number of hits he generates. That's not to say that he won't be an asset, but that he'll need to keep his batting average up if he wants to remain in the big leagues.
Instead, I think Rosario's presence right now should be considered as a wake-up to Aaron Hicks. The Twins always talk about creating competition for open positions and Hicks has supposedly been pretty complacent since being handed the center field job two years ago. After all, that's partially why Torii Hunter was brought back to Minnesota, right?
Byron Buxton is definitely the center fielder of the future, but it would have been foolish to think he was a serious candidate this spring to unseat Hicks after last year's disastrous season. Shane Robinson is a 30-year old defense-first player that has never received more than 181 plate appearances in a year. Jordan Schafer is a 28-year old 4th or 5th outfielder whose only tool is his speed. Hicks could look at all of these guys and see that none of them were a real threat.
This is where we enter Eddie Rosario. Admittedly there are the caveats I already mentioned with his lack of experience and success above Double-A. But, who else jumped from Double-A to the majors when he was 23 years old? None other than Aaron Hicks himself.
Could Hicks see himself in Rosario, a prospect that could be handed the keys to center field with an impressive showing? I think it's entirely possible, and a reason why Rosario has stuck around in major league camp while the likes of Buxton and Miguel Sano have already been sent down. He may not actually be a realistic option to take the field in Detroit with the Twins on April 6th, but after Hicks he's currently the most realistic option.
Aaron Hicks has to know that his time will be running up once the Twins deem that Buxton is ready. But, if the Twins have lost patience with Hicks, using Eddie Rosario to help Hicks gain his focus would make a lot of sense. I know Rosario will see time in Minnesota at some point this season, but I feel it will only be if Hicks struggles, not because he beat out Hicks in spring training.