A Look Back: The Denard Span Era
Last week, the Twins announced that they had signed Jeff Clement, the team’s 12th round pick in the 2002 draft. Clement chose not to sign with the Twins, instead going to USC and later signing with the Mariners as the #3 overall pick in 2005. Following the Twins Thursday trade of Denard Span to the Washington Nationals in exchange for RHP Alex Meyer, Clement is now the only player that the Twins drafted in 2002 that is with the organization.
The Twins drafted Span with the 20th overall pick in the 2002 draft. The Colorado Rockies, who picked ninth that season, had offered him a pre-draft deal at $2 million, but Span declined it. He had a football scholarship to Clemson in his back pocket. However, at the end of the summer, just before the deadline, he signed with the Twins for about a $1.2 million bonus.
Below will be a look back at the Twins career of Denard Span. [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
Hopefully it will jar some great memories for you, and I encourage you to post your thoughts and some of your highlights or memories of Span as a Twins outfielder.
MINOR LEAGUE CAREER
He began his professional career in 2003 by playing 50 games in Elizabethton. He hit .271/.355/.319 (.674) with seven extra base hits. He stole 14 bases.
In 2004, he moved up to the Midwest League. The Twins affiliate at the time was in Quad Cities. He was limited to just 64 games due to broken bone in his hand. He hit .267/.363/.308 (.672) with four doubles and three triples. Span’s prospect status was moving down, but he was clearly already showing an ability to get on base via the walk. At SethSpeaks.net, I ranked him as the Twins #16 prospect.
Despite missing so much time in 2004, he was pushed up to Ft. Myers to start the 2005 season. Through 49 games, he was hitting .339/.410/.403 (.813) with three doubles, three triples and his second professional home run. He already had 13 stolen base. His prospect status was returning. At that point, the Twins promoted him to New Britain where he played in 68 more games. He hit .285/.355/.345 (.699) with six doubles and five homers. He jumped up to the #8 spot in the Twins prospect rankings.
In 2006, he returned to New Britain and spent the entire season there. He hit .285/.340/.349 with 16 doubles, six triples and two home runs. He also stole 24 bases. It was a solid season for Span, but he dropped to #12 on my Twins prospect list (one spot ahead of LHP Brian Duensing, and one spot behind 1B/RF Chris Parmelee). Following the season, the Twins added him to the 40 man roster.
In 2007, he was finally promoted to Rochester where he played centerfield and was the leadoff hitter every day. He hit .267/.323/.355 (.678) with 20 doubles, 7 triples and 3 home runs while stealing 24 bases. At this point, I inexplicably dropped him to #30 in my prospect ranking and wrote, “I certainly do not believe that he is ready to take over the Twins CF position. However, I would say that Span could become a solid #4 outfielder in the big leagues. I would like to say that he could be a Jason Tyner-like player. He hasn’t shown an ability to get on base at a high rate, he has little to no power and he is not an efficient base stealer. ”
In an October 2007 Q&A with Josh Johnson, Josh asked, “What is something people would be shocked to know about you?”
Span’s response? “That I read Twins blogs. I read about people saying that I’m not ready and that I suck. But I read it to get motivated.”
At Twins Fest in January of 2008, I had an exchange with Span.
“I got to the front of the line, and I said, "Denard, I am one of those hated Twins bloggers you don't like, but would you still be willing to sign my card?" Denard looked at me and said, "Which one?" I had my SethSpeaks.net hat on which he seemed to notice just after he asked the question. I just said, "Seth... from SethSpeaks." He said, "I suppose, but you guys are tough on me!!" A few other sentences were uttered, and it really was nice. As I was moving to the next person in line, Denard looked over and said, "Hey Seth, I really do like your site. You do a really good job."”
Torii Hunter, a mentor for Span, had signed a free agent contract with the Angels on Thanksgiving. The centerfield job was open. But as much as the Twins brass wanted us to believe that they believed Span could take the job if needed, it was clear during Johan Santana trade talks that the Twins would be requiring a MLB-ready centerfielder in return. Jacoby Ellsbury’s name was mentioned. And when Santana went to the Mets, Carlos Gomez was returned. Now only that, but don’t forget that Jason Pridie was part of that offseason’s Rays/Twins trade, in part because of lack of confidence in Span.
Major League Career
Span had a big spring training in 2008. Unfortunately, on March 24, less than a week before the season opener, Span was sent back to Rochester. After an impressive showing, Span was clearly and understandably disappointed. However, he went down and did his work. On Friday, April 4, Michael Cuddyer needed to go on the 15-Day Disabled List because of a lacerated finger. Span was promoted, and he would be playing right field, a position he had never played before.
He debuted on April 6th against the Royals. He batted ninth and played right field. In his first at bat, he grounded back to Royals’ starter Brett Tomko. He walked in his second plate appearance, and then grounded out in his final plate appearance. The next night, against the White Sox, Span batted second. He was 1-3 with a walk. In his second at bat, he notched his first big league hit, a single to left field off of Javier Vazquez. He proceeded to steal second base.
When Cuddyer returned, Span briefly went back to Rochester where he played in 40 games, but he was soon back. On July 28, he hit his first major league home run, a two-run homer off of the White Sox Mark Buehrle. The 24-year-old Span hit .294/.387/.432 with 16 doubles, seven triples and six home runs. He also stole 18 bases. At season’s end, he finished sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
In 2009, his first full season, Span hit .311/.392/.415 with 16 doubles, a league-leading 10 triples and eight home runs. He stole 23 bases. Span played terrific centerfield defense and was getting on base about 39% of the time, showing his value as a leadoff hitter. Although he struggled at times on the bases, he stole 41 bases.
Before the 2010 season, the Twins and Span agreed to the five year, $16.5 million deal. That season, he played 153 games. He hit just .264/.331/.348 with 24 doubles, ten triples and three home runs. He was also 26/30 in steal attempts.
Span was off to a terrific start in 2011. In the season’s first half, he hit .294/.361/.385 (.746). However, a simple, feet-first slide into a Royals’ catcher, and Span suffered a concussion in early June. He missed time. Despite the injury, there were consistent rumors following Span, primarily involving the Washington Nationals. He attempted to come back in August. In nine games, he went 2-35 (.057) in 35 at bats. He was shut down again and returned for five games late in the season. He went 4-18 with two doubles and two triples. At least he had something positive to go into the offseason.
Because of Justin Morneau’s situation, Span, the Twins and Twins fans were understandably concerned going into the 2012 season. Some caution was used, but overall, he had a very nice season. He hit .283/.342/.395 with 38 doubles, four triples and four home runs.
Span’s career was full of positive and some negative highlights. He made a lot of great defensive plays all around the outfield. He came up with some huge late-inning hits and walk-offs. He had that MLB-record tying three triples in one game. There was the spring training game in Tampa on ESPN when he hit his mom with a line-drive foul ball which thankfully was not a serious injury. Span had a lot of incredible moments in his five seasons with the Twins. He is an emotional person, and he certainly did not want to leave the organization. He is one who truly would have been happy to spend his entire career with the Twins.
The Nationals’ Era Begins
Which brings us to today, the first day in over a decade that Denard Span is not a member of the Minnesota Twins organization. Span found out when Terry Ryan called his cell phone. He remained quiet until Thursday night when he finally took to Twitter.
- “All I can say is wow right now!! Def glad I got unlimited calls and text lol.”
- “def gonna miss everything about Minnesota. From top to bottom as a organization. They gave me an opportunity to fulfill my childhood dream.”
- “Gonna miss my teammates first and foremost. Secondly gonna miss all the twins fans that showed me so much love.”
- “But on another note I'm very very very very very very excited to be joining the nationals organization. Def an exciting moment for me to be”
- “Going to a quality team and organization. I feel like a little kid again lol”
Span is going from a team that lost 195 games over the past two seasons to a Washington Nationals team that led Major League Baseball with 98 regular seasons in 2012. He will be the leadoff hitter of a lineup that is very strong. He’ll be joined in the outfield by Jayson Werth and NL Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper. The infield includes Ryan Zimmerman with Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa up the middle. Will Adam LaRoche and his 33 homers and 100 RBI come back via free agency, or will they move Mike Morse, who has hit 49 homers over the past two seasons, to first base? They have former Twins prospect Wilson Ramos coming back from his knee injury, and Kurt Suzuki behind the plate. Span will play centerfield behind a pitching rotation that will include Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler. And their bullpen was dominant and will include Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzellany. Span is going to a legitimate World Series championship caliber team.
In a way, Span is returning home. Well, he is at least returning to his birth place. Span was born in 1984 in Washington DC. However, he never lived there. As Nationals’ writer Adam Kilgore tweeted, “His mother was visiting family in D.C. while pregnant. ‘I ended up just popping out.’”
For the Twins, it really means a couple of things as well, especially depending upon or pending any other moves the team will make. First and foremost, it means that Ben Revere will have to step up as a lead off hitter. We all know what Revere is as a defensive outfielder. He’s a highlight film waiting to happen. His range is tremendous which generally makes up for his lack of arm. It also likely means that Chris Parmelee is currently the opening day right fielder. The 2006 top pick has done everything that he can in the minor leagues to show he’s ready for the opportunity. The front office now found a spot in the lineup for him, and he too will have to step up. His opportunity as an outfielder may be limited with Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks waiting in the wings for their opportunity as well.
But What About the Trade?
So, everything up to this has been talking up Denard Span, and rightfully so. We wanted to remind people of what he has meant to the Twins in his nearly five seasons in the big leagues with the Twins. We’ve been basically singing his praises. But does that mean that I don’t like the trade?
Not at all. In fact, I think I had nearly talked myself into believing that the Twins would have to accept a lesser offer for Span than we believed he was worth. A couple of weeks ago, Terry Ryan told me, “we’re not going to take any shortcuts.” I was very encouraged by that. I am sure that a lot of fans are disappointed that the Twins didn’t get a pitcher who is ready to step into the big league rotation right now. Likely, the Twins had a choice to make. Do they want MLB-ready back-of-the-rotation starters, or is it truly about obtaining the most talent? This trade tells me that it was about getting the upside, and I think that’s the right decision.
There are certainly risks with Alex Meyer. Many pitchers as tall as he is (6-9) struggle to find a consistent release point. In his first pro season after a college career, Meyer pitched in Low A and a little in High-A. Compare that to Kyle Gibson, who was drafted near the same position that Meyer (23) was in the 2011 draft. Gibson started in High-A and got the AAA that first full season. Gibson is more polished. No question.
As someone close to the Twins told me last night, “he has big stuff, three high-end pitches.” There are not a lot of pitchers who throw in the upper 90s, with an upper 80s slider, a knuckle curve and a good change up. Alex Meyer has a chance to be really special. Sure, he could flop. But I am in agreement that the Twins need to be thinking about the future and with Meyer, they have a guy who they can control for the next 6-8 years.
Meyer was selected by the Nationals out of the University of Kentucky with the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft. It’s likely the Twins have seen a lot of him. Consider, in 2010, the Twins drafted fellow-Wildcats LHP Logan Darnell in the 6th round, and 1B/OF Lance Ray in the 8th round. I asked each for their thoughts.
Darnell said that they were teammates for two seasons. Darnell added, “He is a great guy, good teammate and very talented player! He throws in mid high 90s with a very good slider, and a pretty good change up, he’s excited to be a Twin too.”
Ray noted, “Really excited about having the opportunity to play with Meyer again. He is a really talented pitcher, and I can’t wait to play defense behind him. Meyer is a guy who can dominate the game when he is on the mound.”
Then again, he added, “On the other hand, Span will be missed. He was a great player and a really good person.”
Ranking the 2002 1st round picks
According to WAR, here is a ranking of the top 1st round picks in the 2002 draft, based on WAR.
1.) Zack Greinke (30.0) - #6 overall by Royals
2.) Matt Cain (29.7) - #25 overall by Giants
3.) Cole Hamels (28.2) - #17 overall by Phillies
4.) Prince Fielder (19.7) - #7 overall by Brewers
5.) Nick Swisher (17.9) - #16 overall by A’s (Moneyball draft!)
6.)Denard Span (16.5) - #20 overall by Twins
7.) Jeremy Guthrie (15.6) - #22 overall by Cleveland
8.) Scott Kazmir (15.2) - #15 overall pick by Mets
9.) BJ Upton (13.6) - #2 overall by Rays
10.) Jeff Francisc (10.0) - #9 overall by Rockies
Span is one of nine players that the Twins drafted in 2001 that made it to the big leagues. As mentioned earlier, with this trade, Jeff Clement (who signed a minor league deal with the Twins last year) is the only 2002 Twins draft pick who is with the Twins now. Jesse Crain was the 2nd round pick that season out of the University of Houston. Pat Neshek was the Twins 6th round pick out of Butler University. 11th round pick Evan Meek didn’t last long with the Twins because of severe control issues, but he had a couple of good years in the Pirates bullpen. Like Clement, Adam Lind did not sign with the Twins, choosing to go to college. He was the Twins 8th round pick. Span’s youth team opponent and occasional teammate Clete Thomas was the Twins 5th round pick that season but chose not to sign. Kyle Phillips (10th round) spent some time in the big leagues as a backup catcher. Garrett Mock (14th round) got into 55 big league games as a reliever as well.
Denard Span, Minnesota Twins
Denard Span was very active in the Twins community. He went to hospitals and visited kids. He bowled. He signed and he signed. He did so with a smile on his face. He quickly became a fan favorite. To those that know him, it didn’t take long at all for people to realize what a good person he is.
- As news came out, Ben Revere tweeted, “gonna miss you big bro..!!! Do work over there..!!!”
- Scott Diamond tweeted, “Want to wish @thisisdspan all the best with the Nationals. He was a great teammate and a better friend. All the best buddy”
- Want to wish @thisisdspan the best of luck with the nats. Great player and even a better friend and teammate. Good luck homie
- PJ Walters tweeted, “Hate to see @thisisdspan leave. Great friend and teammate! Nothing but the best to you man! See you in the World Series!”
- Trevor Plouffe, who is enjoying his bachelor party this weekend, tweeted, “Going to miss @thisisdspan . I've learned a lot from him over the years and def respect the way he goes about his business. Good luck bro!”
- Twins broadcaster and Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven tweeted, “Good luck to Denard Span now with the Nationals. He wore the Twins uniform with a lot of pride and class.”
- Twins Director of Baseball Communications and Player Relations Dustin Morse tweeted, “I wish you well @thisisdspan - the way you treated the media, the Twins staff & the community - you will be missed. Thank you Denard.”
- Twins President Dave St. Peter tweeted, “@Twins family is going to miss @thisisdspan. A great contributor, both on field and in community. Class act all the way. Wish him well!!”
The word “Class” may be over-used, but when it comes to Denard Span, it is a word that everyone seems to agree with. Like Michael Cuddyer before him, Span represents what it means to be a Minnesota Twins player. Great person. Great teammate. Great with the media. Great with the fans. Great in the community. Oh, and a very good baseball player. After a decade in the organization, it will be strange to see Span elsewhere, but in my mind, Span will always be a Minnesota Twin no matter the uniform.