To wrap up my piece on Denard Span, let’s put him in a less impressive crop of players. How does he stack up with recent Minnesota Twins leadoff hitters?
As you might guess, pretty well. In fact, it’s pretty tough to nail down who the Twins leadoff hitters were in a given year because they changed so often. Here’s a look at the last 15 years:
- 1994: Chuck Knoblauch takes over in midseason.
- 1995: Knoblauch
- 1996: Knoblauch
- 1997: Knoblauch
- 1998: Otis Nixon
- 1999: Nobody in particular
- 2000: Todd Walker had many starts in the No. 1 spot, but probably not in over half of the team’s games
- 2001: Cristian Guzman and Jacque Jones
- 2002: Jones
- 2003: Jones and Shannon Stewart (after Stewart’s midseason trade)
- 2004: Stewart
- 2005: Stewart
- 2006: Stewart and Luis Castillo
- 2007: Castillo, Jason Tyner and Jason Bartlett
- 2008: Carlos Gomez before giving way to Span
Here’s a few conclusions from the above list:
- Nixon had to be like 40 years old when he was leading off for the Twins in 1998.
- The Twins have completely failed to develop a leadoff hitter in the years since trading Knoblauch away. Stewart is easily the best in the bunch, but he was an established leadoff hitter acquired in a trade with Toronto.
- Jones and Gomez aren’t exactly great on-base guys. It’s hard to believe they were ever in those roles.
My feeling is Span looks like the best leadoff hitter the franchise has developed since Knoblauch came into the fold in the early 1990s. That’s almost 20 years.
In terms of league wide, that’s tough to say. I think if you’re talking strictly in leadoff ability, I would take him for sure over at least 10-12 leadoff hitters in the game today. And there are probably another 10-12 that he is in the same class as.
Because of his lack of experience, there’s no certainty that Span can keep this going. It sure is hard to find too much to complain about right now, though. He plays all three outfield positions well, he’s got good baserunning ability and he sports a .409 OBP.
It looks like the leadoff hitter the Twins lacked in their playoff lineups during the early part of this decade has finally been found.