Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Beer Leaguers: Berghoff Sundown Dark and Denard Span

On Friday, The Common Man was walking through the booze section of his local supermarket, when he spied a cheap beer with a sharp looking label. At less than a dollar per bottle, The Common Man was pretty sure that he was about to get hosed, particularly as he had not heard anything exciting about this brew, but figured to try it anyway. And that, dear friends, is the moment that Berghoff Sundown Dark entered TCM’s life. The six pack is long gone now, the bottles tossed into the recycling bin. But the flavor and the crispness are still with The Common Man. The Sundown Dark comes on full and malty, with a sweet dark taste, perhaps with a hint of molasses. It is rich and satisfying, particularly out of the bottle, but not overpowering. The Common Man was genuinely surprised by how much he liked it. And he wants more.

Similarly, when the Twins promoted Denard Span in 2008, The Common Man wasn’t sure what to make of him. Span had been taken in the first round of the 2004 draft, and was projected to move as a Kenny Lofton-esque leadoff hitter. He did not project to hit for power, but looked like a baseball player at 6’, 200 lbs. After some high-OBP, low SLG success in the low minors, Span seemed to stall at AA in 2006. Despite struggling at New Britain, Span was promoted the next year to AAA Rochester, where his walk rate continued to suffer, and his strikeout rate ramped up. Plus, the Twins’ supposed leadoff man of the future had been caught 14 times in 39 attempts to steal. It was looking more and more like Denard Span was going to wash out.

When Michael Cuddyer suffered a hand injury, Span made his debut in rightfield. His performance was not encouraging. Through April 24, he was hitting .258/.324/.258 and the Twins were scuffling out of the gate. Span was sent down, where something clicked. He not only rediscovered his hitting stroke (batting .340 in 156 ABs), but found his batting eye (26 BB in 184 PAs) and power as well (.481 SLG). When Cuddyer went down again at the end of June, Span was recalled and continued his hot hitting. From June 30 on, Denard Span played in every single game and hit .297/.393/.449 and stole 15 bases in 22 attempts. On July 22, Span became the team’s leadoff hitter, and hasn’t given it up since.

When Span was called up, The Common Man didn’t know what to make of him. TCM remembers Aaron Gleeman’s frustration both with Span’s lack of development and at the decision to call him up and start him in rightfield, and TCM remember agreeing with him. Hell, Gleeman didn’t even include Span in his list of the Twins’ top 40 prospects before 2008. And indeed, Span looked lost when he first got to the major leagues. But in the two years since his coming out party, Span has been terrific, posting a strong batting average, a good walk rate, and adequate speed on the bases. This year, while his batting average has suffered, he has maintained his solid BB rate, sees just as many pitches per at bat, and has stolen 14 bags while only being caught once.

In addition, Denard Span plays baseball hard. It’s common for announcers and pundits to praise “hard-nosed” and “gritty” players like Nick Punto (who is, oh hey, white!), but they rarely mention Span, who worked hard to make himself into a productive hitter, hustles on the field and on the bases, and plays with a strong competitive instinct. While that kind of attitude may or may not help the team in a measurable way, it’s endearing to a fanbase that has come to appreciate their leadoff man.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau may be the golden boys in the Twin Cities these days. They certainly look good, and play well, and cost the team a pretty penny. But the modest, engaging, and inexpensive ($750,000 this year, 5 years/$16.5 million with a club option) young center fielder is quickly becoming a new favorite around town. He certainly surprised The Common Man, even more so than a certain dark brown ale that TCM is craving right now.

No comments: