Found January 29, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
Picimg_mlb_apr_04_1346
MINNEAPOLIS New Twins outfielder Josh Willingham has just 11 career at-bats at Target Field, playing three games there last season when the Oakland Athletics came to town. It's a small sample size, to be sure, but Willingham showed in that series that he should have no problem hitting at what has been tabbed as a pitcher's ballpark. Against Minnesota starter Scott Baker on April 10 of the 2011 season, Willingham went deep to left field on a 2-2 count. His solo homer reached the upper deck of Target Field and measured 420 feet, according to hittrackeronline.com. "I think the pitch that he hit out was a ball left out over the middle of the plate," Baker recalled. "You can just look at him and tell he's super strong. He's just a very strong individual. He can put a charge in the ball just as good as anybody." Of Willingham's 29 home runs in 2011, the one he hit at Target Field was his third-longest of the season. Willingham said he doesn't know a ton about his new home park outside of what he experienced in that early-season series. "Obviously you just kind of know what you hear," said the 32-year-old Willingham. "But if anything, it's big. Big in the alleys and big in center, so it's a pitcher's park, I would say. But Oakland was a pitcher's park, probably. Florida, for the most part. Washington played really fair. So we'll swing at 'em and see what happens." With the losses of outfielders Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, who both signed elsewhere as free agents this winter, Minnesota is hoping Willingham can replace some of the power in the lineup. Cuddyer had a team-high 20 homers in 2011, while Kubel had 12 despite playing in just 99 games but hit 20 or more the previous three seasons. The Twins signed Willingham in December to a three-year, 21 million contract. The eight-year veteran has spent time with the Marlins, Nationals and last season with the A's. In 2011, he batted just .246, but had a career year in terms of run production. Both his 29 homers and 98 RBIs were career highs. He also slugged .477 with 26 doubles. Of Willingham's 29 home runs in 2011, all 29 went to left field or left-center. The left field fence at Target Field is 339 feet from home plate with an eight-foot wall, making it much easier to hit one out to left than to right field, where the fence is 328 feet but with a 23-foot wall. The power alleys in left-center and right-center also play long at 377 feet and 367 feet, respectively. In its two-year history, Target Field has not exactly garnered a reputation as a hitter-friendly park. It ranked 20th among all parks in 2011 with a park factor 0.913, meaning it favors pitchers. Still, Willingham said he's never heard other players complain about playing at Target Field. "But you never hear people say, 'Aw, yeah, I want to go to Target Field.' You know what I mean?" Willingham said. "It's a lot like Oakland. When I went to Oakland, it wasn't like you'd hear all the hitters were saying, 'Oh, it's a great place to hit.'" While many of Willingham's home runs travel to left field, Willingham will be in right field this season for the Twins. He's spent most of his career as a left fielder (654 games), with only a handful (34 games) in right field. But with Denard Span set to hold down the starting role in center field -- if he stays healthy after sustaining a concussion last year -- and Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe likely to platoon in left field, Willingham will make the move across the outfield. "I haven't played there much," Willingham said of right field. "Hopefully this spring I'll just get a lot of reps out there and get comfortable. That's the goal. Playing on the opposite end of the field, it's different, the way the balls come off the bat, so it'll just take a little bit of time to get used to." It may take a few games, but the veteran Willingham shouldn't have much time getting comfortable in right field. And if his performance at Target Field was any indication, Willingham should be comfortable hitting in his new home park as well. "I can almost guarantee you that his BP display's pretty amazing, just how strong he is," Baker said. "It's going to be nice. He made Target Field hitter-friendly, in my opinion." Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter @FSNtylermason.
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