As spring training comes to a close, many of the roster spots have already been determined. However, the regular season is approaching quickly(!!!) and the Twins have two men on the roster who have made a strong case to take the 4th outfielder spot.
We all know about Jake Cave, who came out of nowhere to become one of the best hitters on the squad last year while filling in for the injured/inconsistent Byron Buxton. After his season last year (at age 25), one would assume he’d be a roster lock. However, Buxton is back and (hopefully) better than ever, and the corners are locked down by Rosario and Kepler. A spot as the fourth outfielder would naturally be his spot to lose, then.
Enter Michael Reed. The 26-year-old has seen very limited action in the bigs with the Braves and the Brewers over the last three years, and many saw him as nothing but a depth signing this winter. However, Reed has showcased a sweet swing to produce a strong spring that is now meriting roster consideration (he’s even a Minnesotan, too!)
Let’s look a little deeper. The two outfielders are strikingly similar on the surface. Both are 26 years old (born less than a month apart). Both are listed at 6 feet tall, with Reed packing a little more weight (200 lbs to 215 lbs). They can both play all three outfield positions if need be.
It is hard to draw much of a comparison from their stats, as they have limited big-league experience. We’ll take a look anyway. In one year, Cave slashed .269/.316/.481 with 13 (mostly very, very long) dingers over 283 at-bats, producing 1.5 WAR. He has proven himself to be a productive hitter in the bigs. Over three years, Reed has produced to the tune of .229/.270/.257 and 0 home runs, but take those numbers with a grain of salt. Reed has only received 35 at-bats, and no more than 22 in a single season. However, he has out-shined Cave in spring training action this year. Reed is batting .313 with a home run in 16 AB’s, while Cave is hitting .268 (also with one home run) in 41 at-bats.
If you overlook Reed’s advantage in the very limited sample size of spring training, I believe Cave is clearly the choice. Minor league options complicate the matter. Cave has two options left, while Reed has none. This means that if Reed doesn’t make the roster, the Twins will have to risk losing him on the waiver wire. Given his strong spring and the constant need for suitable outfielders, there is a pretty good chance he would be picked up by another team if this occurred.
So the central question is this: do the Twins believe that Jake Cave will be enough of an improvement over Reed to justify losing Reed? Furthermore, do the Twins believe they have enough depth that they can lose another outfielder after shipping away Zack Granite this spring? It’s hard to say what the front office will do. However, here’s how I’d answer those questions: yes and yes. Jake Cave was not only a good backup outfielder last year, he was a legitimately good player. He also got enough at-bats that his season should not be considered a small-sample-size aberration. Reed has proven very little, and having 16 good at-bats in spring training shouldn’t outweigh that. The Twins have two AAA outfielders who should be ready to get their feet wet this year (Lamonte Wade and Brent Rooker), and replacement-level outfielders will likely be available on waivers at any given time during the season. It’s not only AAA that can provide extra outfield depth, either. Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza, and Willians Astudillo (to a lesser degree) are all capable (or more than capable) to man outfield positions, and Kepler can cover centerfield with ease if Buxton is out. In conclusion, I believe Jake Cave should be the fourth outfielder for the Twins come Opening Day. Don’t send him back to the Jake Cave!
Who should be the Twins fourth outfielder?
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