Joe Benson Provides Sock To Speedy Rock Cats Outfield





FORT MYERS, Fla.—No special padding in the Double-A New Britain dugout will be necessary, Joe Benson insists. His days of punching the walls are over.

"I learned my lesson the hard way," the 22-year-old outfielder said. "Hit with your bat, not your hand."

Good idea—bones break, and baseball careers stall.

That's what happened when the 2006 second-round pick tried to take out his frustrations about a high Class A umpire's call on a chain-link dugout fence last May. Striking the wall behind the fence broke Benson's right hand, and an encouraging season at high Class A Fort Myers was derailed for two months.

Fortunately, Benson is good at hitting baseballs, too, and the Twins don't expect his temper to be an issue again. He will start the season with New Britain, teaming with 2007 first-rounder Ben Revere to give the Rock Cats one of the minors' fastest outfields.

"Those guys will cover a lot of ground," vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said. "They might be the two fastest guys in our system."

And along with 2008 first-round pick Aaron Hicks, and third-year big leaguer Denard Span, they give the Twins a wealth of young center fielders.

That logjam might be sorted out by moving Benson to a corner spot, since he's got the bat for it. The Hinsdale, Ill., native came to the Twins out of high school, a football player with great tools but little refinement.

Benson has yet to hit more than five home runs in a season, but last year, he took a huge step forward in pitch recognition, drawing 46 walks in 80 games and spiking his on-base percentage to .414.

"That's a great indicator. He's learned to stick to pitches he can hit while staying aggressive," Radcliff said. "He still needs at-bats, still needs work on baserunning, but he's strong, and we think he'll develop power."

TWIN KILLINGS

• The Twins briefly considered moving righthander Carlos Gutierrez to the bullpen in hopes he might eventually help fill Joe Nathan's closer role. "He was in the bullpen (after signing in 2008) as a way to limit his innings after (elbow) surgery, but we've always wanted him to start," Radcliff said. "We've got him working on developing his secondary pitches he'll need."

• Third baseman Wander Guillen will come to the U.S. this spring to play in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League at age 17. Typically, the Twins would send a player that young back for a second season in the Dominican Summer League, but Guillen thrived in his pro debut last year, winning the DSL batting title at .336/.443/.409.