Twins' Top 5 center fielders: Park's take

May 4th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only ... if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Do-Hyoung Park's ranking of the top 5 center fielders in Twins history, since the franchise relocated to Minnesota in 1961. Next week: Right fielders.

Twins' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

1) , 1984-95
Key fact: Twins' all-time leader in hits (2,304)

Thanks to the dazzling smile, infectious energy and community engagement that defined Puckett's 12-year career, the center fielder had already established himself as one of the all-time fan favorites in Minnesota even before the night of Oct. 26, 1991. That evening, in Game 6 of the World Series, Puckett ascended into baseball immortality with his walk-off homer in the 11th inning against the Atlanta Braves, and those famous words from Jack Buck will live forever in every Twins fan's memory: "And we'll see you tomorrow night!"

The leadership, skills and jubilation for the game endeared Puckett to Twins fans in a way that few, if any, had done before, and few will match again. After finishing third in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1984, Puckett earned his first MVP votes in '85 and followed that with 10 consecutive All-Star appearances, six Silver Slugger Awards and six Gold Glove Awards in center field as he showed off an elite combination of average, power, speed, defense and flair for the dramatic before his career was suddenly cut short by retinal damage in his right eye following the '95 season.

But what a career it was. When Puckett retired, he was the Twins' all-time leader in hits (2,304), doubles (414), total bases (3,453), at-bats (7,244) and runs (1,071), and, of course, he was the centerpiece of the 1987 and '91 lineups that won the only two World Series championships in club history. Puckett also made as much of an impact off the field as he did on it, winning Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award in 1996. A first-ballot Hall of Famer and idol for a generation of Twins fans, Puckett's is the only name that could possibly belong at the top of this list.

"Kirby Puckett is the kind of player you hope and dream that your franchise will have," said former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail, according to Puckett's Hall of Fame bio page. "He does everything on the field to help you win, and what he does in the clubhouse and the community is remarkable."

2) , 1997-2007, '15
Key fact: Leads all Twins center fielders in homers (214)

Another fiercely beloved figure in Twins history, Hunter soon became the long-term replacement to Puckett in center field and spent 12 of his 19 Major League seasons in Minnesota, dazzling Twins Territory with his mixture of power, speed and defensive ability on the field and his charitable spirit off it. He won seven of his nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards with the Twins from 2001-07, earning two All-Star nods in that time, including that famous '02 All-Star Game in which Hunter was the AL's starting center fielder and went up and over the wall in the first inning to rob all-time home run king Barry Bonds of a roundtripper.

In his prime, Hunter helped to lead the Twins to four AL Central titles in a five-year stretch (2002-04, '06) alongside the likes of Brad Radke, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones and Johan Santana before he signed with the Angels in free agency following the '07 campaign. Hunter did get the chance to retire as a Twin with a one-year deal in '15, returning as the elder statesman of the clubhouse in his age-39 season, capping a tremendous Twins career in which he surpassed the 20-homer mark seven times and reached double digits in steals six times.

"He's symbolic of a lot of things we try to do here, in the way he played, the way he handled himself, the way he gave back to the community," former manager Paul Molitor said when Hunter was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame. "Certainly talented, but it goes way beyond that with him in terms of character and other ways he's been able to influence other people, other players, and certainly he's given back in a lot of different ways off the field."

3) Jimmie Hall, 1963-66
Key fact: Holds Twins single-season record for homers by a primary center fielder (33)

There's a steep drop-off from second to third on this list, where Hall slots in -- despite a relatively short-lived career with the Twins -- thanks to the exemplary power he flashed in Minnesota and nowhere else. When Hall took the AL by storm with 33 homers in 1963, he broke Ted Williams' AL record for most homers in a season by a first-year player but finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting behind Gary Peters and Pete Ward of the White Sox. Hall followed that up with 25 dingers in '64 and 20 more in '65, when the Twins won the first AL pennant in club history.

Though Hall was an established power threat at that point, manager Sam Mele kept his left-handed-hitting center fielder on the bench for Games 2 and 3 of the 1965 World Series against Dodgers southpaws Sandy Koufax and Claude Osteen, and Hall was limited to a 1-for-7 performance with five strikeouts in the Fall Classic. He hit 20 homers in his final season with the Twins in '66 but saw his career take a steep dive following a trade to the Angels, and he never again hit more than three homers in a season following the '67 campaign.

4) César Tovar, 1965-72
Key fact: Played all nine positions in a game on Sept. 22, 1968

It wouldn't necessarily be fair to consider the ultra-versatile Tovar at any single position, but he needed to show up somewhere in these positional rankings, and he was most frequently a center fielder with the Twins, so here he is. Defensive flexibility aside, Tovar was likely one of the more underrated players in club history, never making an All-Star team despite earning MVP votes in five seasons, leading the league in doubles and triples in 1970 and finishing as the AL hits leader in '71. Tovar's calling card was his speed, as he ranks third in Twins history in stolen bases (186), and he coupled that with solid hitting for average and a decent amount of power to finish his eight-year Twins career hitting .281/.337/.377 with 38 homers and 193 doubles.

5) , 2008-12
Key fact: His .387 on-base percentage in '08 was highest in club history by a rookie (min. 400 PA)

The Twins' first-round selection in the 2002 MLB Draft, Span was a solid contributor on both offense and defense in five seasons with the Twins, serving as the leadoff hitter for both the '09 and '10 teams that won AL Central championships. His career-long discipline at the plate served him well atop the lineup, resulting in a .357 on-base percentage in his Twins career. His speed also played well into that role, as he stole 90 bases over his time with Minnesota and led the AL with 10 triples in '09. Span was traded to the Nationals following the '12 season for pitching prospect Alex Meyer and finished his 11-year MLB career with the Mariners in 2018.

Honorable mentions
Lyman Bostack
was a rising star at the plate in the early stages of his career, as he hit .323 and .336 in his first two full seasons before signing with the Angels in free agency. His life was tragically cut short during the 1978 season in a shooting in Gary, Ind. ... Dan Ford reached double digits in homers during all four of his seasons with the Twins before he was traded to the Angels in after the '78 season. ... is among the most naturally talented center fielders to wear a Twins uniform, but he has been held back from reaching his potential by injury issues through the first five years of his career.