Name: Keiunta Denard Span (Goes by Denard)
DOB: February 27, 1984
From: Born in Washington D.C., but grew up in Tampa Bay, FL.
Position: Center Field
Batting Order: Typically leadoff (But that is under much scrutiny these days)
With the Nats Since: 2013. Acquired in a Trade from the Minnesota Twins.
Who is this guy?: If you really don’t know the first thing about Spanning, you might want to check out our 2013 player preview.
What Happened in 2013: Quickly a fan favorite (certainly in this household anyway), Span fit in with the Nat’s talent level and personalities. Span had a very strong April, but like the Nats as a whole, Span’s fast start screeched to a halt. From May – July, Span couldn’t quite find his footing or his timing. June averages plummeted: an OBP of .279 and a BAA of .235 (down from .349 and .276 in April).
Then Span finally got cooking again, went on a 29 game hitting streak, and ended the season strong with his OBP rebounding back to a solid .333 and a BA of .303 (his highest of the season).
Even with spotty batting, Span provided excellent defensive coverage in center field. He finishes second in Fangraphs defensive rankings amongst all center fielders with a healthy 12.4 rating. As the only starting outfielder to play throughout the year, his opportunities to help the team added up including some particularly beautiful highlights. Span catches routinely what others have to dive for, so when Span is diving and catching a ball he’s one of only a few people in MLB that ever had a chance at catching it in the first place.
What’s Expected in 2014: The defense was the biggest factor in his 3.5 fWAR from 2013-enough to rank as a solid to good player, but the Nats need more from Span’s bat in 2014. His second half .302/.337/.413 would probably be serviceable enough over a whole year-but it might not satiate fans prone to believe he can’t hit. Span proved that he is a strong centerfielder and can get on base-he just needs to do that all year. He’s still really fast too. He stole 20 bases and lead the league with 11 (11!) triples. I’m not ready to write him off as the worst batter on the team, like some are. He’s fast. He can get on base. He can still be the leadoff man for the Nats.
Looking at the 2014 season, the Nats need Span to be more consistent. In his position as lead off man (which despite Court’s protests to the contrary, is going to happen), it is crucial that Span gets on base to allow the big hitters (Harper, Zimm, Werth, etc.) to convert hits to runs.
If It All Goes Right?: Spanning isn’t just in the outfield, but describes stealing the 90 feet between first and second (meaning Span is both getting into scoring position and getting on base-an improvement over last year. He got most, if not all, of his slumping out last year and puts up seasons like he did with the Twins when he first joined the league. Other players get better pitches because he’s on base, and other teams continue to get fly balls eaten up by the fleet footed Span. The Nats score more runs, give up fewer, and win more games than last year.
If It All Goes Wrong?: More of the 2013 season redone. Inconsistent play at the plate leads to lots of innings (and games) starting with one out and no one on base. Span’s job is to be the run that scores; the go ahead run. The Nats need him to get on base to have a better year than last. If he can’t, it will hurt the team and Court will get his wish to push him down in the lineup (if not off the team completely). It all starts at the top. It all starts with Span.