Chris Kline's AFL Road Trip: Q&A With Denard Span
By Chris Kline
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 standpoint.
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 play.
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.
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