Ryan not ready to name center field front-runner

Ryan not ready to name center field front-runner

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While most are ready to hand Aaron Hicks the center-field job on Opening Day, and he's undoubtedly played the best of the trio competing for the spot, general manager Terry Ryan made it clear that declaring a winner now would be a tad premature.

"We're about halfway home," Ryan said. "Just because one guy got off hotter than the others, we're about halfway."

That one guy, of course, is Hicks, who went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk against the Red Sox on Friday night. That gives MLB.com's No. 98 prospect a .341 average in Grapefruit League action. Darin Mastroianni started in left on Friday, going 2-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. He's now hitting .409 over 22 at-bats. After being slowed by a tight hamstring, Mastroianni has played well, an "under the radar" type Ryan warned against forgetting about.

Of the three, Joe Benson's performance has been the least impressive. The Twins' No. 13 prospect was in Friday night's lineup, as well, as the designated hitter, and his 0-for-4 performance brought his average down to .178. But even he has shown signs of life, going 5-for-9 over his three previous games before Friday, including a three-hit performance on Thursday afternoon against the Red Sox.

"He's going to be a little streaky," Ryan said. "He's a streaky guy, as is anybody who swings like he swings. He has a little confidence flowing now. He went through a little tough stretch here. That's not unusual, I don't think. I like that. I like the fact we have a competition going on out there and even though he went through a little bit of a tough stretch, he's regrouping some and he's not just going to go away here."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow