SURPRISE, Ariz–Twins outfielder Denard Span broke out in a big way in 2005, hitting .339 in 186 at-bats at high Class A Fort Myers, and finished up the season holding his own in Double-A, batting .285 in 267 at-bats at New Britain.
The 21-year-old outfielder was hampered by injuries in 2004,
including a broken hamate bone in his right wrist that caused him to
miss two months. But the speedster, who rates as a 70 runner on the
20-80 scouting scale, is on the fast track to Minnesota now.
Span has an unorthodox approach at the plate, with both hands held
slightly apart in his grip. Though he will never hit for much power,
Span is a prototypical leadoff hitter that has shown some prowess for
drawing walks. He drew 34 free passes last year and the patience
improved with 44 in 2005.
A first-round pick in 2002 out of Tampa Catholic High, Span could fit in to the big picture in Minnesota as early as next year.
We caught up with Span–who began his high school career at baseball
power Hillsborough High in Tampa–to talk about his swing, how his
approach to stealing bases has changed over the years, and
second-guessing himself early in his career.
BA: (Grand Canyon hitting coach) John Mallee has implemented a
system with you guys this fall to go over your individual at-bats. How
helpful has that been with your overall approach?
DS: After each game, I try to look at every one of them to see if
I’m using my legs or how level my swing was. It’s great because you
break everything down frame-by-frame to see what you’re doing or not
doing. Having that has only helped me get better from a contact
BA: You have kind of an unusual approach at the plate now, with
that gap between your hands in your grip. Why do you use that technique
and what do you think that does to help you?
DS: It hasn’t always been that way. It’s something I tried out
because my top hand is a little bit weak, and when I have my hands
together I tend to get a little under the ball more often. With that
little space in there, it’s easier for me to slap the ball and keep it
on the ground more. I tried it this year, got comfortable with it and
had some success. I’m trying to squeeze my hands back together, but
it’s working and it got me to Double-A. It helps me stay on top.
BA: Having such great speed, how has stealing bags changed for you over your career?
DS: I’ve never had problems stealing bases before, but as you move
up it gets a lot different. You have to pay more attention to
(pitchers’) tendencies. When I was in high school and Rookie ball, I
just stole whenever I felt like it. Now, you have to understand
situations and see how quick a guy is to home plate, how good his
(pickoff) move is, and how good the catcher is to be effective.
BA: You started out at Hillsborough High, who produced guys like
Carl Everett and Gary Sheffield, but then transferred to Tampa
Catholic. How much does coming out of such a limelight put extra
pressure on you?
DS: I’m proud of where I’m from. You know when you say ‘Tampa,’ the
first thing that comes to people’s minds is good baseball. People look
at me and think, ‘That guy’s going to be good because he came out of
Tampa.’ People talk about Hillsborough all the time because of the guys
that have come out of there, but I hope one day they’ll look that Tampa
Catholic and say the same thing about that program. I don’t feel any
extra added pressure–I have to go out and do what I do and the results
have to be there. But I’m not afraid of failing when I do fail. I just
think you have to put all those names and stuff aside and go out and
BA: As a standout football player in high school, you ever catch
yourself wondering what might have been had you taken another path
instead of baseball?
DS: It was tough early on in my career, because I think I second
guessed myself a lot. I second-guessed my decision to play baseball. I
don’t think I’ve ever really felt this comfortable about my game, and I
know I definitely doubted myself early on in my career. I found myself
thinking about what my career would have been like if I stuck with
football a lot. It wasn’t until this year when I really came to grips
that football and all that stuff was in the past and started to believe
in my baseball abilities. I always knew I was a good athlete, I just
kind of doubted I could be a good baseball player.