Goss: Fresh start in 2013 a godsend for Twins’ Joe Benson
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org February 27, 2013 10:54PM
Joe Benson, of the Minnesota Twins. | AP file photo
Updated: April 1, 2013 6:43AM
Sometimes in life you get a second chance.
Joliet Catholic graduate Joe Benson plans to make the most of his.
After hitting .239 in 71 at-bats in his major league debut with the Minnesota Twins in September 2011, Benson’s 2012 summer was a bummer.
The Twins’ 2006 second-round draft pick did not hit well during stints at Triple A and Double A. He was out for a while with a broken hamate bone in his hand, then needed microfracture knee surgery that ended his season in August.
Under other circumstances, one might feel Benson would have slipped into oblivion with Minnesota. However, the Twins, who traded outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere in the offseason, have entered spring training with their center field job an open competition. Benson, who spent most of the offseason rehabbing at the Twins’ base in Fort Myers, Fla., is among the candidates, along with Darin Mastroianni and top prospect Aaron Hicks.
Mastroianni is the early favorite based on experience. He was with the Twins last season and proved he belongs on the big-league roster. Whether his ultimate role is as a regular or a fourth outfielder is to be determined.
Hicks, 23, has a high ceiling but has not yet played in Triple A, so he may begin the season there. But his talent is unquestioned.
Benson, who on Tuesday will turn 25, also may begin the season in Triple A if he does not win the starting job. But he hopes to convince the Twins he’s ready to take over. He hit his first home run of the spring two days ago.
“I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am, going from the worst summer athletically of my entire life to kind of getting a second chance and getting a crack at it,” Benson was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune during the offseason. “I couldn’t wait for 2012 to be done, not just the season, but the offseason. It’s over, it’s done with and I’m ready to start fresh in 2013.”
Twins general manager Terry Ryan always has been a Benson fan, and that hasn’t changed.
“We’re gonna clean the slate,” Ryan was quoted. “He’s 100 percent. He’s a talented kid. I think he’s maturing and starting to figure out that opportunities are here and he should take advantage.”
Ryan noted the importance of 2013 in Benson’s career and added, “He’s getting to the point in his career where he’s probably getting a little impatient. We’ve had him a long time. He’s got a good skill set — there isn’t anyone in camp with that whole package of skills.”
When I talked recently with former major leaguer Ron Coomer (Lockport), now a color analyst for the Twins on Fox Sports North, he said this of Benson:
“Yeah, he had some injury issues and production issues (in 2012). He’s just got a little work to do with his swing. Because of that, major league pitchers can exploit the holes in his swing. You saw that even when he came up in 2011.
“But Joe is a legitimate five-tool guy with a lot of energy. If he stays on the ball and keeps his approach through the middle, he will be a five-tool player. The Twins like him. He’s a great kid.
“There will come a time when he is going to have to understand what the big leagues are all about. When he figures it out, he will be a very good big-league player.”
I seldom have a conversation about local pro baseball players when Benson’s name does not come up. For everyone here who wonders how he is doing, the 2013 season should provide an answer. For now, he is healthy and grateful for the opportunity.
Another local story to follow this spring is that of Cincinnati Reds left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani (Lincoln-Way Central).
You may recall Cingrani posted numbers in A-Advanced and Double A last season that were out of this world. He was one of the leading pitchers in minor league ball in regard to ERA and strikeouts per innings pitched. All that success led to a September call-up. He worked in three games for the Reds and allowed one earned run while striking out nine in five innings.
The Reds enter 2013 with a deep pitching staff. Because Cingrani has not yet been in Triple A, that could be his destination.
However, there also is this to consider. Drafted by the Reds in the third round in 2011 out of Rice University, Cingrani has relieved and started during his brief pro career. There are many who believe he is major league ready and should stay with the Reds as a reliever (and perhaps a spot starter because there are no immediate openings in the regular rotation).
But as soon as you say that, there are others who contend Cingrani, only 23, would be better off continuing to gain experience as a starter in Triple A and consequently be more prepared to move into the Reds’ rotation next year, when there likely will be an opening or two.
As with Benson, Cingrani will be worth keeping an eye on as spring training progresses and the 2013 season unfolds. It may be neither will be in the big leagues the entire season, but they may return at some point. Once they do, it hopefully will be permanent.
The Joliet area prides itself in producing quality major leaguers, but we have been in a relative dry spell for a while now. We’re due.