Tuesday, May 13, 2014

8 Years of Minnesota Twins Center Fielders: Part 2

This is the second part in a multi-part series.  If you missed part one, please click here.  

In 2008, the Twins had to embark on their first season without Torii Hunter in center since 1998.  Carlos Gomez was the prize from the Johan Santana trade and Denard Span was the home-grown prospect on the cusp of his MLB debut.  Both guys were needed in 2008 and while Gomez was an outstanding defender, Span was a better overall player and a much better hitter.  Heading into 2009, it seemed apparent to any Twins fan that Span was the center fielder of the present and perhaps Gomez was the future.

April 6, 2009:  Denard Span is batting leadoff for the Twins and playing...left field.  Carlos Gomez was batting seventh and playing center.  Gomez wasn't sent to AAA for more seasoning.  He wasn't given a part-time role to learn on the job.  He was the starting center fielder for the second straight season. 

It was quite impressive when Span and Gomez were in the outfield together, but that didn't change the fact that Gomez still couldn't hit MLB pitching.  He certainly had his moments, but by June 5, his OBP was down to .274.  55 games into his third MLB season, he was about to become a part-time player.  Gomez would start just 54 of the remaining 107 games.  Span was hitting over .300 with an OBP just shy of .400 and was more than happy to pick up some starts in center.

Remember Ben Revere, the Twins' 2007 first-round selection?  He was hitting over .300 for High-A Fort Myers.  The Twins' center field depth was looking better and better.  Span was in the middle of a second solid MLB season.  Revere was rolling.  Gomez was so young and talented, you couldn't imagine the Twins would completely give up on him.  With patience, he still could turn into the superstar player the Twins had dreamed of when they traded their best pitcher to acquire him.  

The 2009 Twins won 87 games, most famously game 163 against the Detroit Tigers when Carlos Gomez scored the game-winning run with a headfirst slide.  The Twins' playoff fortunes hadn't changed from earlier in the decade as they were swept out of the playoffs by the Yankees.  The excitement of the playoffs did not last long.  Within a month of the Twins' final ALDS game, Carlos Gomez was gone.  The Twins traded him to the Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy, filling a different position of more long-term need. 

The trade made sense.  Denard Span was the better player, cementing his MLB status with a .311/.392/.415 sophomore campaign.  Ben Revere was headed for AA, the last big test before a prospect is ready for MLB action.  Gomez had made some excellent defensive plays, but he still owned a paltry .248/.293/.352 batting line after 963 plate appearances as a Twin.  He hadn't reached the magic 1000 PA figure, but he was about as close as he could get without crossing that supreme round number (and basically statistically there, right math people?).        

Of course, Hardy would only last one season in Minnesota before being shipped to the Orioles for a collection of garage sale items and Gomez would post an 8.9 rWAR for the Brewers in 2013.  Those are irrelevant details at this point.  That said, the irrelevant details related to the Twins' center field situation are starting to pile up and they're starting to suck.  To soften the blow of losing Gomez (not a blow that needed softening at the time, by the way), the Twins did extend Denard Span for five years, buying up all of his arbitration years.  They had committed to Torii Hunter's successor. 

The end.  Wait, that was 2010.  This is 2014.  2010+5 is...  Sam Fuld...  Eduardo Escobar...  Wait, we're not done!    

With their center field situation under control, 2010 would be a season of stability in center field for the Twins.  Denard Span played 153 games in center and no one challenged him for that position.  In addition, Ben Revere met his AA challenge, hitting .305/.371/.363 in 94 games with New Britain.  The Twins won 94 games in 2010, won the Central and got swept in the first round by the Yankees.  That's getting old.  At least all was well in center field, right?  Well... 

While Span did play a career-best 153 games in 2010, he also hit a career worst .264.  He saw his walk rate dip from 12.2% in 2008 to 10.4% in 2009 to 8.5% in 2010.  His slugging percentage fell from "good for a center fielder" to "good for a AAA center fielder" and it was starting to look like he might be a better defensive corner outfielder than center fielder.  Well crud.  Of course, Revere made his MLB debut in September of 2010 and looked like a potential contributor in 2011.  Perhaps Span was a better player when pushed by a younger, faster model. 

At the start of the 2011 season, Span was fully entrenched as the starting center fielder.  Revere was sent to AAA.  Span started hot, hitting over .300 right up until the last day in April.  In Rochester, It looked as though Revere would get an extended look at AAA pitching for the first time in his career.  However, Delmon Young strained an oblique in late April.  When Jason Repko and Rene Tosoni and guys like Jason Repko and Rene Tosoni couldn't hold down the left field job, Revere was summoned.  He played sparingly for a couple of weeks and was sent back to Rochester when Young was healthy.  Of course, as you've probably started to notice, Twins' center fielders don't stay at AAA very long.  

On June 3, Span had a minor collision at home plate with Royals' catcher Brayan Pena.  He missed a couple games but returned on June 6, going 0-4.  He didn't play again until August 2.  Span was dealing with a brain injury, a concussion to be more specific, and he would be shut down for nearly two months.  He would come back for nine ineffective games before going back on the DL as a result of more concussion symptoms.  While he did return for five games in late September, he finished the 2011 season with just 70 games played, only 14 after that early-June concussion. 

With Span out, Revere looked to take advantage of his opportunity to be the starting center fielder. When Revere returned to the Twins on June 2, he was hitting .250.  At the end of June, he was hitting .281.  The rest of his season was up and down, but Revere proved to be an exciting player in the field and on the basepaths.   He even did a somersault while legging out a triple!  Who does that?  Revere's rookie season wasn't a huge success, but he held his own at 23, hitting .267 and stealing 34 bases. 

With Span's future now a little less clear, the Twins had to be happy to have a potential replacement ready and on the roster.  Span was still the incumbent, but he had to prove good health.  Concussions aren't worth messing with and Span was still an important piece, so the Twins were going to be cautious.  In the next part, we'll see how this Denard Span/Ben Revere situation would play out.  


  1. The Twins Center Field situation kind of feels like some kind of Greek Tragedy. At what point does Bill Smith stab out his eyes?

    1. If he does, I hope he doesn't do it in public. I have an eye thing and it would be hard to watch.