The Nationals have acquired center fielder Denard Span in a trade on Thursday with the Minnesota Twins.
That fills one of the team’s few roster holes heading into the 2013 seasons. Span, 28, is a highly-regarded defensive player. He has limited power, but had a .342 on-base percentage last season and is considered a true leadoff hitter from the left side of the plate.
That is a skillset Washington has lacked in recent years. The Nats had to play rookie Bryce Harper in center field last year and, while he took to the position, the club ideally would have him at a corner outfield spot. Jayson Werth returned from a broken wrist in August and out of necessity had to bat leadoff. He, too, excelled in that spot, but general manager Mike Rizzo said ideally Werth would bat lower in the lineup to take advantage of his power.
Washington was rumored to be in the trade market for Span two summers ago, according to Rizzo, but the two teams couldn’t agree on the players headed back to Minnesota. This time they did. The Nats parted with minor-league pitcher Alex Meyer, one of two first-round draft picks for the team in 2011.
“A year-and-a-half ago I definitely don’t think I was ready for [a trade to Washington] then,” Span said. “Fast forward to now and I’m definitely ready for it, to come to a team that already is in place to win. I just hope that I can come here and fit in and not get in the way.”
Meyer was considered the organization’s top pitching prospect. He was chosen 23rd overall and has quickly risen through the minor-league system, finishing 2012 at Single-A Potomac. He is a 6-foot-9 power pitcher who the team believed could become a dominant starting pitcher. But at his size his mechanics are always a work-in-progress and that could limit him to relief duty – though it’s expected Meyer would excel in that role if he eventually has to make a switch. In 18 starts at low-A Hagerstown he had a 3.10 ERA and in seven at Potomac he posted a 2.31 ERA.
Span, meanwhile, batted .283 in 2012 for the Twins with 38 doubles. He is a contact hitter with a strikeout rate over the last three seasons – one for every 9.2 plate appearances – that ranked sixth in the American League during that stretch. He also stole 17 bases in 23 attempts and led all qualified big-league center fielders in range factor per nine innings (2.89).
The risks? Health is the biggest. Span played in just 70 games in 2011 thanks to lingering symptoms from a concussion he suffered on July 8 of that year. In 2009 Span battled symptoms related to vertigo. But he managed to play 128 games in 2012 and was productive, easing any concerns on Washington’s part that Span was damaged goods.
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