Around the Horn: Outfielders

White hoping to add to strong outfield corps

The following is the fourth in a series of weekly stories on examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Outfielders.

WINONA, Minn. -- Following a season that included a division title and almost every type of individual accolade possible, it's no surprise that the Twins enter 2007 with very few holes in the lineup.

Almost every single position player is set to return to the club, so there aren't many starting spots to battle for at Spring Training. But one that does remain a bit of a question mark is the everyday left-field spot.

The top candidate for left field appears to be Rondell White, who re-signed with the Twins in late December. Just a year ago, White joined the club to be the team's full-time DH. But the role didn't seem to suit White as he struggled to be productive early in the year.

White appears to be on a mission to prove that he's not the player that Twins fans saw early in '06. A tight shoulder hindered White in the first half of the season as he hit just .182 and he had to work hard all year to prove that he belonged on the club.

"I don't want Minnesota to remember me that way," White said after rejoining the club in December. "This team kept me around last year. Any other team, and I would have been back on my couch during the second half. They stuck with me, and I want to prove that I can do it. I'm not going to try to do too much but just relax and enjoy playing. I feel like in the second half, I got my soul back."

The turnaround for White came while playing in left field. It was White who took over the position after Shannon Stewart went down with injuries. An outfielder for most of his career, White credited his familiarity of playing the position as a big part of his turnaround, and now that Stewart is gone from the organization, White is looking forward to earning the starting spot in left.

"They told me that I'll be playing left field most of the time, and that's where I'm comfortable playing," White said.

While left field may be up for grabs, the other two outfield positions appear to be locks for the Twins. It was just a year ago that right field was also a question mark in the lineup, but while it may have taken White until the second half of the season to find his groove, it only took Michael Cuddyer a month to catch on in right field.

After an oblique strain slowed down his progress at the end of Spring Training, Cuddyer started the year coming off the bench rather than as the team's everyday right fielder. But when the opportunity came to remain a fixture in the starting spot, Cuddyer grabbed it and ran, delivering 109 RBIs and 102 runs scored to become just the 18th player in franchise history to top the 100 mark in both categories in the same season.

It was also the first time in Cuddyer's career he was able to secure an everyday spot in the lineup and keep it. Emerging as not only a strong arm in right field but as the team's consistent cleanup hitter, Cuddyer is now considered to be one of the top young players on a team full of youthful talent.

But even after his breakout season, Cuddyer isn't content to rest on his prior accomplishments.

"I still feel like I have to prove myself all over again, even if it's just to me," Cuddyer said. "You never want to become complacent, and I can't become relaxed now. It's still a tough job, and you still have to play the game."

Minnesota Twins
Catchers: Mauer aims to build on '06
Corner IF: Punto no longer unknown
Middle IF: Keystone solidified
Outfielders: Rondell rounds it out
Starters: Santana only certainty
Bullpen: Relievers must be reliable
DH/Bench: Kubel top DH candidate

The one constant in the outfield for the Twins in recent years has been center fielder Torii Hunter. Before last season, there were few people who thought Hunter would be in a Twins uniform in '07, but once again the six-time Gold Glove winner will man center for Minnesota after the team picked up his option in the offseason.

It was a successful return to the field for Hunter last season after missing the final two months of the 2005 season with a broken left ankle. Though the ankle still hindered him at times, Hunter showed he remains one of the best defensive outfielders in the game by making highlight reel catches and solidifying a strong overall defense for the club.

There is a comfort level defensively for the Twins having Hunter in center, but he provided the club with a bit of offense as well. After a slow start to the year as he battled through a sore ankle, Hunter was one of the club's best hitters down the stretch. He batted .311 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in the month of September.

"He was unbelievable for us and a big key in driving in runs for us late in the year," Cuddyer said of Hunter. "To have that again will be nice for us as well. Hopefully he'll be healthy the whole year and be able to build off that."

Depth was a concern last season when three of the team's outfielders-- Hunter, Lew Ford and Stewart -- went on the DL within a few days of one another. But what it showed the club is that it has plenty of talent waiting in the wings.

Jason Tyner emerged as one of the club's "Little Piranhas," as he showed an ability to get on base and help produce runs for a team that was desperately seeking them. Tyner will return and could be a strong contender for playing time.

Jason Kubel is coming off surgery this past fall to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Expected to be a candidate for the DH role, Kubel also could factor into the outfield if his knees prove to be healthy.

The team has other backup options in Ford and Josh Rabe. Coming off a disappointing year where he was hampered by injuries, Ford is looking to rebound while Rabe is another promising prospect who provides some power potential.

Offensively, it may be the best group of outfielders that the Twins have gathered together in some time but there's always one thing that the team prides itself on most -- defense.

"We feel good about our defense," Cuddyer said. "In the outfield it's something that we take a lot of pride in, and hopefully it will be another strong point for our club this year."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.