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Prospect of the Day: Joe Benson, OF, Minnesota Twins

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Prospect of the Day: Joe Benson, OF, Minnesota Twins

2011 was a disaster for the Minnesota Twins, but outfield prospect Joe Benson provides some hope for the future. He will see regular action for the rest of this season, positioning himself for a shot at a full-time job in 2012.

Benson has been on a gradual-development path. Drafted in the second round from 2006 from high school in Joliet, Illinois, Benson was considered raw but quite toolsy when drafted. He hit .260/.335/.444 for the Gulf Coast Twins after signing, but posted a pair of so-so seasons in the Low-A Midwest League in 2007 (.255/.347/.368) and 2008 (.248/.326/.382) for Beloit. A back injury limited him to 89 games in 2009 but he hit .285/.414/.403 in the High-A Florida State League. He combined to hit .259/.343/.538 with 27 homers and 19 steals between High-A and Double-A in 2010. This year he hit .284/.387/.491 with 16 homers and 14 steals in Double-A, although he missed a month with a knee injury.

Benson is a 6-1, 205 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, 23 years old. A football star in high school, he has the speed/strength combination you might expect given his background. Scouts have always loved his tools: he has above-average speed, an above-average throwing arm, and well-above-average home power.

His biggest problem has been simple rawness: he was a cold-weather high school player with a multisport background, and it has taken him time to develop a modicum of plate discipline and pick up the nuances of the game. He handles fastballs well, but still struggles at times against breaking pitches. Benson is a skilled defensive outfielder with enough arm for right field and enough range for center.

The general expectation is that Benson will hit for considerable power (20+ homers), provide occasional stolen bases (15-20 per year, until his speed starts to decline, depending on how aggressive with him Ron Gardenhire is), and show off a good glove, but that his batting average and OBP could be erratic. The Twins should have at least one open outfield spot entering 2012, and Benson will be at the top of the list for the job opportunity in spring training, especially if his September trial goes well.