Not only did they deal away two men who could play center field, they traded away two guys who naturally fit as leadoff hitters. Revere, because he has never been inclined to take a walk, was only an adequate top-of-the-order guy (.333 on-base percentage in 2012), but Span in his heyday was above-average and bordering on elite when he was rolling (.392 OBP in 2009, his best year with the Twins, and a .357 career OBP with the club).
The Twins had drafted their center fielder and possible leadoff man of the future in the summer of 2012 in the speedy, rangy and powerful Byron Buxton, but they knew they had no center fielder or leadoff hitter of the present after the trades. What they did have is pitching prospects in return — one of whom, Trevor May, is in their starting rotation, and another of whom, Alex Meyer, might be figuring out his role as a reliever at Rochester, where he has allowed just one earned run in 16.1 innings (along with 19 strikeouts) since being moved to the bullpen. The Twins were not going to compete in 2013 or 2014 with or without Span and Revere, so it is reasonable to say the trades were worth it and that — at least for now — better days are here.
That said, they left gaping holes the past two-plus seasons. The void in center was filled, at times, by Aaron Hicks — who could field but has never consistently hit. The void at the top of the order has been filled, at times, by decent options in Brian Dozier and Danny Santana, who have done the bulk of the leadoff work for the Twins since the Span and Revere trades.
That said, it has not felt like they they had a true leadoff man since 2012 … until Buxton filled that spot Monday night. It wasn’t just that he went 3-for-5 with three runs scored in his first shot in the spot — including the turning of a mortal single into a Buxton double in the first inning. Rather, it is the credentials he brings to the spot as the perfect mix of gap power, speed and patience (with a career .380 OBP in the minors to go with a career .486 slugging percentage).
From 2010-2012, Span or Revere batted leadoff in all but 18 of the Twins’ 486 games. No other player had more than 10 tries in the spot.
From 2013 through Sunday, six different players had at least 10 starts in the leadoff spot for the Twins.
Again, Dozier’s work shouldn’t be discounted. He has scored 136 runs in 194 starts as a leadoff man in that span, boosted by 37 homers. But his .326 on-base percentage is slightly below the league average for leadoff hitters in that span (.328). He strikes me more as better suited to hit No. 2 or No. 5.
Santana hit .290 in 456 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, but he also drew just 15 walks for a subpar OBP of .319. Assuming he makes it back to the majors, it should be as a No. 9 hitter who can turn the lineup over and provide speed to go with occasional pop.
Someday, Buxton might prove to be too valuable as a run-producer to use in the leadoff spot — and could, in fact, hit third in the other (another void if we consider Joe Mauer, even in light of some recent power, is not the hitter he once was and isn’t ideally suited for that position in the order).
For now, though, Buxton as a leadoff man is perfect. Batting him ninth as an introduction to the big leagues was nice in theory, but elite players thrive on pressure. Batting him ninth tells him you’re not sure he belongs. Batting him first tells him the trust is there.
Let’s hope Monday was the first of many times we see Buxton’s name at the top of the lineup card … and let’s hope that we don’t see names like Alex Pressly (27 times since 2013), Jamey Carroll (25 times) or Clete Thomas (16 times) for a great long while.