Denard Span can flash a smile with impunity these days.
The 2002 No.1 draft choice has emerged as the Minnesota Twins' most trustworthy outfield commodity through the first nine games. He's hitting a robust .323, sits second behind former MVP Justin Morneau in hits and RBI, and leads the team in stolen bases.
Not bad for a guy whose baseball future was up in the air a year ago.
Span impressed the Twins with a solid spring training in 2008. The rub was that Carlos Gomez, acquired from the Mets in a trade for Johnan Santana, was deemed even more impressive. Gomez won the center field slot and Span was suddenly the odd man out in the competition for a regular outfield slot.
Span didn't let it get him down, though.
He batted .340 in 40 games at Triple A Rochester between his first call-up to the Twins to replace an injured Michael Cuddyer at the beginning of the season and what may be his final call-up on June 30.
Span finished his rookie season with the Twins by batting .294 in 94 games.
Span, though, still wasn't satisfied.
He only drew 50 walks and struck out 60 times. Not bad at all, but this doesn't cut it for a leadoff batter who is expected to be among the team leaders in on-base percentage.
Span vowed 2009 would be different.
He's carried through with his promise thus far this season, walking seven times and striking out just three times.
A similar move might benefit Gomez, who also vowed at the beginning of the season to show more plate discipline.
Gomez has just three hits in 26 plate appearances. What's even more alarming is that is he's on pace to walk even less and strike out more than last year (25 walks versus 142 strikeouts). In the first nine games, Gomez has walked once and struck out nine times.
Granted, nine games does not a season make—but it appears that Gomez is over matched against American League pitching.
The Twins must give some consideration to sending Gomez to the minors if he continues to struggle at the major league level. Perhaps he can discover the same lessons that Span learned from his descent.