Ten years ago, the Minnesota Twins broke up their center field dynasty. Beginning in 1984, the Twins saw a string of electric players roam the largest swath of outfield grass: Kirby Puckett to Torii Hunter to Carlos Gomez to Denard Span to Byron Buxton. Save for a Rich Becker season or two, the line was nearly unbroken.
But after two consecutive losing seasons—2011 & 2012—the Twins had to start moving players to acquire assets. So, Span was whisked to Washington for SP Alex Meyer (an unqualified disaster) and Ben Revere was punted to Philadelphia (at least bringing in Trevor May, albeit Vance Worley with him).
The hope was that young Aaron Hicks would step into the role, with the raw Buxton a bit further down the pipeline. Sadly, this turned into a ‘13 quagmire: Hicks hit .192 (63 OPS+) in 313 PA, and by the end of the season Alex Presley and Clete Thomas—he of the last Twins steal of home—were starting in CF more often than not.
This all got me thinking about which Twins CF I would take at his peak. What I’m trying to do here is take nostalgia and specific moments out of equation as much as humanly possible. I know that Kirby single-handedly won an elimination World Series game, Torii is practically the reason we’re all here, and Buxton is still active and thus subjected to the criticism of the present, but I’m trying to get at who was the best all-around ballplayer at his peak.
As solid as Span was and as fun/crazy as Gomez or Revere played, they are clearly a step below the top-shelf talent on this list. In other words, it’s a Puckett, Hunter, or Buxton world and we’re all just living in it. So, let’s think about this a little...
Peak Kirby Puckett: 1988, 28 years old, 234 H, 24 HR, .356 BA, 153 OPS+, 6 Fielding Runs Above Average, 3.08 Range Factor/9
‘88 Kirby was something to behold. Not only was it one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history, but #34 was still lithe enough to be a solid hit-stealer out in the grass.
Peak Torii Hunter: 2001, 25 years old, 27 HR, 102 OPS+, 20 Fielding Runs Above Average, 3.29 Range Factor/9
‘01 was a little before some of Torii’s breakout offensive campaigns (here he was league-average with some pop). But defensively there was none like him.
Peak Byron Buxton: 2021, 27 years old, 254 PA, 23 2B, 19 HR, 171 OPS+, 11 Fielding Runs Above Average, 3.16 Range Factor/9
As always with Byron, health would be the biggest concern. But when in the ‘21 lineup, he was basically Kirby at the plate and encroaching on Torii in the field.
For obvious reasons, I know who is going to win this poll (especially if gintzer partakes). I’ll probably vote for him too. But I think there is at least a conversation to be had about which star Twins CF you’d take at his natural peak athletic ability.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall—who’s the greatest Twins CF of them all?
This poll is closed
Kirby Puckett ‘88
Torii Hunter ‘01
Byron Buxton ‘21