• Position Analysis: Center Field

    Likely Starter: Denard Span
    2011 Stats: .264/.328/.359, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 37 R, 6/7 SB

    Potential Backups: Ben Revere, Joe Benson, Darin Mastroianni

    A good case can be made that during his first two seasons in the majors, Denard Span was not only one of the most underrated players on the Twins, but in all of baseball. Between 2008 and 2009, Span hit .305/.390/.422 with 41 steals and 63 extra-base hits in 238 games.

    A young, cost-controlled leadoff man with a .390 OBP, a bit of pop and the athleticism to competently play center field? That's not a solid contributor, that's a stud.

    Span's drop-off in 2010 was staggering. With Carlos Gomez gone, he assumed full-time duties in center and saw his OPS drop by 130 points, effectively dropping his designation from elite to ordinary.

    It appeared that Span had reemerged as a true asset at the top of the order last year, as he sat with a .300/.367/.392 hitting line on June 6, but that day he suffered a concussion in a home plate collision and he was never the same afterward. He went on to hit .132 over two stints in August and September, finishing with an OPS nearly identical to that mediocre 2010 campaign.

    Twins fans know all too well how long the after-effects of a concussion can linger, with Justin Morneau still not right 20 months after his incident in Toronto. Span carries his own concerns, especially in light of the migraine headaches he'd dealt with prior to being concussed, and he admitted recently that he still experiences the occasional bad day.

    Fortunately, the center fielder's performance in spring training thus far has done nothing but inspire confidence that he can shake off the injury concerns and return at least to the form he showed in the early months of last season.

    Through 11 exhibition games, Span is hitting .355. He's shown a great plate approach with four walks and only two strikeouts, he's been aggressive on the bases with five steal attempts, and he even came away from a wall collision in the outfield altogether unscathed. We often caution not to place too much stock in spring numbers, but Span's play in Ft. Myers has been about as encouraging as one could hope for.

    That doesn't mean he's out of the woods, of course. If the head problems become an issue again for Span, or if he suffers a different injury, the Twins will need to be prepared. In a short-term scenario, Ron Gardenhire could probably just shift a few players around and plug in someone like Rene Tosoni, Ryan Doumit or Darin Mastroianni. If the need is more long-term, it's likely that the Twins would call upon Joe Benson, a top prospect in the organization who like Span is having a very strong spring.

    Benson has posted an OPS above .800 in three straight minor-league seasons and got a taste of the majors last September. At age 24, he appears close to big-league ready. He leads the Twins with 10 RBI in Grapefruit League play after blasting a two-run homer against the Tigers yesterday. His high strikeout totals will be an ongoing concern, but his combination of patience, power and flat-out athleticism are quite intriguing.

    If Span or another outfielder goes down for a lengthy period of time and Benson continues to impress, it's likely that he'd get the call, either in center or in a corner spot with Revere shifting to the middle. He's one of the organization's only high-quality prospects in the upper levels of the minors, making the outfield an area of relative depth for the club.

    Of course, the Twins and Benson will both be better off if he's able to log some experience in Triple-A where he's yet to take a single at-bat and come up on his own terms rather than out of necessity. The hope is that Span can keep the bad days at bay and help facilitate that process. I'm optimistic that he will.

    Predicted 2012 Hitting Line for Span: .280/.350/.370, 4 HR, 50 RBI
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Center Field started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Refresh my memory, but how many previous concussions has Span had in his life? I believe this was his first and because of this, I don't expect him to have many 'bad' days like Morneau whom has had several previous concussions. I don't find the concussion concerns warranted for Span for this reason, but no two head injuries are the same. Nonetheless, I see a .740 OPS for Span this year, which I hope Morneau can match.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Well, Span by his own admission still experiences headaches and dizziness from time to time (though it may be tough to determine whether these are from post-concussion syndrome or his previous vertigo issues) so I think it's safe to say that it remains a concern.
    1. davesaxton's Avatar
      davesaxton -
      One concussion or many doent make much difference. I know this to be true. I had a concussion nearly 5 years ago and still feel the effects now and then, the difference is you get to understand when they are coming and can try and head them off. I believe that Span has come to grips with it and will be taking days off at his own request when he needs to. But looking at him this spring I dont see that fog in his eyes like we did late last season.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      I'm feeling pretty optimistic about Span, presuming health. Hard to do, but how do you do anything else? A line of .280/.380/.400 wouldn't surprise me one bit, with average to plus defense in the field.

      CF is a position of strength for the Twins, I think. Revere can easily shift over there and play it and be an outstanding defender there, and his weak arm won't be too much of a killer. Benson is close to being ready, and should be able to fill in capably. My biggest question is whether the twins might not be better off with Span playing LF with Revere in CF when Revere is on the field. Span has enough arm for LF and has played well there before, whereas Revere is a little more questionable as a LF. So far the reasoning I've heard is that Gardy is going to play Span in CF because that's where Span wants to be, which makes me wonder who's running this show.
    1. tharasix's Avatar
      tharasix -
      Quote Originally Posted by jmlease1 View Post
      CF is a position of strength for the Twins, I think. Revere can easily shift over there and play it and be an outstanding defender there, and his weak arm won't be too much of a killer. Benson is close to being ready, and should be able to fill in capably. My biggest question is whether the twins might not be better off with Span playing LF with Revere in CF when Revere is on the field. Span has enough arm for LF and has played well there before, whereas Revere is a little more questionable as a LF. So far the reasoning I've heard is that Gardy is going to play Span in CF because that's where Span wants to be, which makes me wonder who's running this show.
      You put your weak arm in left field. The issue is the throws to third and home, and the distance to those bases is the least from left field. That's the reason Revere is slated for left. There were plenty of times that opponents went first to third on Revere last year because they knew he couldn't make the throw from deep center.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      If Benson is having a great season in Rochester and Span is healthy and having a good season with the Twins, the Twins need to sell high on Span.
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Center field is one of the few areas of the team where I'm not particularly worried, which is good because a lot of teams need help in center. That's not to say that I'm no worried about Span, I'm VERY concerned that he's not over the "fog" of post-concussion syndrome, and he really hasn't sustained above average play in his career even before the concussion. But if he needs to miss time, or just isn't good anymore, Revere can handle the range aspect of the position extremely well, and if you had to live his arm in CF, he's still nothing less than an average or "decent" CF in aggregate. Plus, if Span is out, that means it could be Willingham AND Plouffe or Doumit at the corners, so you'd need someone "rangey" in the middle.

      Benson is also very intriguing, and apparently a good defensive outfielder, so I think we'll actually be okay at this position. CF and SS (and perhaps C) are positions where you live with little or no offensive production if you get solid defense - other positions, including LF, 3B and even 2B (I would argue) are not.
    1. dave_dw's Avatar
      dave_dw -
      Quote Originally Posted by jmlease1 View Post
      My biggest question is whether the twins might not be better off with Span playing LF with Revere in CF when Revere is on the field.
      I agree with this in principle, but I think Span really wants to be the center fielder, and he's got seniority. Plus he's not bad in center, Revere is just better. But it's not unprecedented to have your best defensive outfielder playing in a corner spot. Brett Gardner and Carl Crawford have done it for years.
    1. TwinsAce's Avatar
      TwinsAce -
      Quote Originally Posted by dave_dw View Post
      I agree with this in principle, but I think Span really wants to be the center fielder, and he's got seniority. Plus he's not bad in center, Revere is just better. But it's not unprecedented to have your best defensive outfielder playing in a corner spot. Brett Gardner and Carl Crawford have done it for years.
      One side note I would add is that Carl Crawford's arm is below-average. Just something to consider.
      Also, I would much rather have Revere in Left Field then Center, and if Span is not in Center, he needs to be in Right field, (not Left).
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