In the next few days, Ron Gardenhire will choose between Denard Span and Carlos Gomez to be the Twins starting centerfielder on Opening Day. Though he could use another year of seasoning at AAA, Carlos Gomez should get the nod.
Offensively, arguments could be made on behalf of both players. Through March 23rd, Gomez is batting .286 with a homer, six rbi’s and ten steals. Span is batting .282 with no homers and two rbi’s and three steals.
Gomez has more power and is more explosive on the base paths but Span is the much more disciplined hitter at the plate, with a .404 on-base percentage. Span has drawn seven walks in 39 official at-bats, Gomez has only two in 49 trips to the plate. Gomez has 12 runs scored to Span’s six.
In the field, both are above-average defenders with good speed. Gomez is faster and has the stronger arm but is not as polished as Span. Through yesterday, Gomez has made one error in the field and thrown out three runners. Span has no errors but only one assist.
Span had been Tori Hunter’s heir apparent for some years until a disastrous first half of 2007 at AAA gave the Twins pause. Span rebounded, finishing the year with a .267 average and 25 steals.
He was originally drafted by Minnesota and has been groomed in the Twins’ 'small-ball' style of play. If Span had a solid 2007, the Twins might not even have asked for Gomez in the Santana trade and the CF job would be Span's to lose.
But the Twins did get Gomez, a player who struggled to a .232 average in 125 at-bats with the Mets last year. At times, he is brilliant. Other times, he makes mistakes you’d expect to see in A ball.
A recent at-bat against the Phillies in a game played last week illustrates the point. Gomez singles and proceeds to get picked off first but he beats the throw down to second. On the next pitch, Delmon Young hits a little flare just over the second baseman’s head. Gomez speeds around the bases and scores just ahead of Utley’s throw.
If the Twins were legitimate contenders this year, they would probably go with Span and let Gomez work on his game at Rochester. But with a highly suspect starting rotation, they might as well give the job to Gomez and make things exciting.
He might lose them as many games with his head as he wins with his legs but at least it won’t be boring. The fact that the team needs to show fans some immediate dividends from the Johan Santana deal will also be a factor, making Gardenhire’s choice of Gomez over Span an easy one.