Denard Span was selected by the Twins in the 1st round, 20th player taken, of the 2002 amateur draft. Immediately upon being selected by the Twins out of Tampa Catholic HS in Tampa Bay, he was dubbed the future successor to Torii Hunter. His minor league numbers were solid and consistent, but not spectacular, as he moved up through the system. In his 6 years in the minor leagues he hit .287/.355/.358 and never hit lower than .267 at any of his stops along the way.
At 25 Span is the oldest of the 2008 Twins outfield and has the least upside, but it is that consistency, and his ability to leadoff that makes him so valuable. With Carlos Gomez entrenched in CF, Span moved to RF when he was called up to the majors, and handled the transition seamlessly. His 2.58 RF9 (range factor per nine innings) ranked 2nd among 30 regular right fielders and was well above the league average of 2.14 for the position. His fielding percentage of .985 matched the league average.
Span not only helped the Twins on defense, but was also very successful at the plate. In 2008 he hit .294/.387/.432 and spent 66 of his 93 games with the team hitting leadoff. His ability to hit leadoff improved the Twins in 3 places as it allowed them to move Gomez to 9th and Casilla to 2nd in the order. Both Baseball Prospectus (.271/.337/.371) and Bill James (.284/.357/.382) project him to take a step back from his 2008 level or performance. The question lies in whether or not he can maintain his level of play and whether or not he has truly arrived.
If Span can give the Twins a .280 BA with a .360 OBP from the leadoff spot, the Twins will be in good shape. Defensively, the duo of Gomez in center and Span in right is the best in all of baseball. Offensively, a small step backward is probably reasonable since he played slightly above his minor league track record, but it is also equally possibly that he finally figured it out and put it all together at age 24 in 2008 and bigger things are in store for Denard Span in 2009.
Since I already expect Young and Gomez to improve this season, I find it hard to believe that Span will also take another step forward. The odds are simply against all 3 of them improving significantly in the same year, but since they are all 25 or younger it isn’t impossible.