Monday, February 28, 2011

D-Span's Last Stand

Gleeman just finished his 'Twins Top-40 prospects', something he does a great job with every year and a series of his I enjoy reading more than almost any other (except for the Link-o-Ramas). One thing you can't help but notice is the bevy of outfield talent that the Twins have coming up within the system, particularly in center field. In fact, 4 out of the Top 10 players (according to Gleeman) in the Twins system are center-fielders. This got me thinking...D-Span has got to come through this year, or he may very well be somewhere else (or on the bench) by season's end.

Many have speculated about Span and his 2010 season, trying to provide answers to why it was so terrible. In 2008 and 2009, Span was a true asset to the team, playing solid defense in center while performing well at the plate. In both of those seasons he batted around .300 (.294 in 2008 and .311 in 2009), had OBPs in the upper .300s and even managed .400+ SLG%s. In 2010, everything turned sour as Span hit for .264/.331/.348 in 705 PAs. No matter how good his defense, that kind of bat will take him right out of the lineup if it continues. Span seemed to have more trouble than most adapting to Target Field, and was certainly out-spoken about it, but that's still really no excuse.

Behind Span are those 4 CFs waiting for a chance, and of those 4, three of them are pretty close: Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson and Ben Revere. Aaron Hicks is's 2nd ranked Twins prospect and Joe Benson was the Twins Minor League Player of the Year last season so that should highlight the kind of talent that is waiting for Span to struggle again this season. In fact, Benson replaced Span in the 5th inning of the Twins first Spring Training game the other day and proceeded to drive in 3 with a bases-clearing triple.

Because the Twins have so much up-and-coming outfield talent, the decision to give Span a 5-year contract prior to last season makes little sense. Not only that, the contract was loaded on the back-end which will make it harder to deal Span if he finds himself out of a job. Span is in line to make $1M this season, but in the next 3 years, he makes $3M, $4.75M and $6.5M respectively. For the Denard Span of 2009, that would be a pretty fair price as he played to a 3.6WAR that year, but that's hardly something the Twins can count on.

Span's BABIP was the most likely culprit for his sub-par 2010 season, he only managed a .294 mark last year, a far cry from his .326 career mark. In looking at his Plate Discipline stats, he swung at a few more pitches out of the zone, but none of the metrics look all that much different from previous seasons. Nick Nelson over at Nick's Twins Blog had an interesting perspective on Span's struggles last season, attributing them to weak groundballs, an explanation that would make sense why his BABIP dropped so much. This past weekend, it came out that Gardenhire thinks he rode Span too hard last year and that's why he struggled...ok.

The problem with Span is that his minor league track record doesn't suggest that he can sustain the type of success he had in his first two seasons with the Twins. Span was a .288/.357/.358 hitter in the minors which looks a lot more like last season than it does the previous two. Span has speed and defense, both of which have improved in the last 3 years, but without a stick to support those other skills, he'll likely lose his spot...or I should say, he would deserve to lose his spot but Gardenhire and the Twins will likely continue to play him because Gardy always has to play a guy with speed and defense but no bat...sorry, that was rant-ish.

As always, I hope that Span has a good year, or at least substantially better than last year, a bounce-back year if you will. I think something resembling .280/.350/.415 would be serviceable. He can be a legit 30-steal guy and he is easily the best of the Twins outfield defensive options, he can still be worth that contract that the Twins signed him to. All I'm saying if that if he doesn't step it up this year, there is some serious young talent waiting for the 'everyday center-field' role to open up.

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