Saturday, March 31, 2007

Who Is Denard Span?


With the conclusion of the most important issue of the pre-season, the Twins starting rotation, having been decided its time to move on to other important issues. Today I'll be covering Denard Span, the Twins center fielder of the future. It's widely known that the man Denard will have to replace, Twins legend Torii Hunter, is in the final year of his contact and that the Twins will either need to move him or lose him. Once this happens it will be the end of an era of sorts in Twins history as he is the final holdover from the 2001 season when the Twins began a streak of 5 consecutive winning seasons which ended the doldrums the team had been living in since their 1991 World Series victory and ushered in a new era of perennial contention. An era that will likely be left to the protection of youngsters such as Span and Alexi Casilla.

Who is Denard Span;

Born February 27, 1984, the 23 year old Span was the Twins 1st round selection with the 20th pick in 2002. A left handed hitter, Span is more of Juan Pierre than a Torii Hunter having hit only 4 home runs in 1452 combined minor league at-bats in his four year minor league career. Twins fans got a glimpse of what's to come from Span this spring as he hit .359 in 36 spring at-bats over 13 games before being sent down to AAA to get some polish.

While many in the Twins organization rave about his speed, and rightly so, I think he's still got quite a ways to go as he really doesn't seem to have figured out exactly how to read pitchers, an opinion based on his 67% career stolen base rate in the minors. But you also know the raw speed is there because he had 6 triples in 536 at-bats last year at AA New Britain. In 2004 Baseball-America rated him as the Twins fastest player, best fielder, and also its best athlete. Praise like that combined with a spring like he had is certain to generate a lot of hope. I for one am a believer that Span could very well turn out to be every bit as good as advertised but I'm not sold that he is ready yet. Two things in particular worry me, the SB% I mentioned earlier and a very low walk rate. His BABIP of .331 is pretty good and tells us he's both fast enough to beat out grounders he hits deep into holes and that he gets enough line drives to be successful.
Another good sign is that in536 at-bats last year he struck out only 78 times, still almost twice as much as he walked but still only 14% of the time which means for his age he has a pretty advanced feel for the strike-zone leaving hope that he could tun into a very good leadoff-type hitter.

Whether or not Span will become a capable replacement to Torii Hunter in center field is largely a decision of his own making. Clearly he has the talent to stick at the major league level, and while he'll never be a super-star he can provide the things the Twins have built their success on, speed and defense. I don't think he's there yet, but he's getting awfully close.

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