The ever-diligent David Laurila recently got Denard Span on tape, and Span had some interesting things to say about his early tutelage by the Twins:
When I got drafted, anybody who scouted me will remember that I was a small-framed guy, but I had pretty good pop, so to speak. I wasn’t a slap hitter coming out of high school; I was a guy who could drive the ball into the gaps. I wasn’t a home-run hitter, but I was a guy who could drive the ball. When I got drafted, they took me with the idea of making me into a leadoff hitter and they wanted me to slap the ball. That had them changing my hitting approach to try to stay inside the ball and hit ground balls to the left side of the infield instead of turning on balls. I did that for two-and-half, three years, and it almost got to the point where I didn’t know how to turn on a ball. On an inside pitch, I’d try to fight it the other way.
Finally, I got to Double-A and a scout who had seen me in high school, and had been promoted to a position in our minor-league system, remembered seeing me as a 17-year-old kid. At that age, I was probably 25 pounds lighter than I was at 22. So, when he saw me at 22 he said, "I remember when you were 170 pounds and now you’re close to 200 pounds and you hit the ball farther, with more strength, as a 17-year-old. That doesn‘t make sense to me." After that, they had me, finally, working on turning on the ball and driving it. I almost felt like I ... I don’t want to say "wasted" three years, but I was working on something for three years that I don’t think I should have been.
I've written a fair amount about Span, largely because his career path has been so odd. I've seen other explanations for that oddness, and they seemed a little too neat.
So does this one.
"Isolated power" is a power metric figured by simply subtracting batting average from slugging percentage.
Here's the procession of Span's isolated power, beginning with his season-opening stint in Class A in 2005:
2005 Class A - .062
2005 Class AA - .060
2006 Class AA - .064
2007 Class AAA - .088
2008 Class AAA - .141
2008 Major Lg. - .138
2009 Major Lg. - .104
2010 Major Lg. - .109
If Span says the Twins tried to turn him into a slap hitter, I believe him. In 2003 and 2004, his first two professional seasons, he showed even less power than in 2005 and 2006, but it's worth mentioning that early on he struggled with leg injuries and a broken wrist bone.
Was there some magical transformation after that ex-scout saw Span slapping the ball in Double-A? If so, it's not apparent here, as his power didn't pick up until his first season in Triple-A and didn't really pick up until his second season at that level (and that was only 40 games).
Like I said, I believe Span. I also believe that when we see a career as unlikely as his -- really, the only thing that makes sense is that a first-round draft pick eventually became a pretty good major leaguer -- we can only begin to understand all the twists and turns therein.