Byron Buxton made his debut in the leadoff spot for the Twins on Monday, going 3-for-5 with three runs scored and very much looking the part of a No. 1 hitter. It got us thinking: Who are the best leadoff hitters in Twins history?
Here is a list of our top five, spanning 1961 to the present, with a minimum of 700 plate appearances for Minnesota as a leadoff hitter (with major credit to baseball-reference.com, which sorts out all this information).
1. Chuck Knoblauch: Easily the greatest leadoff hitter in Twins history and arguably one of the greatest leadoff hitters of the past 30 years, at least during his time in Minnesota. He was patient enough to draw walks, he had pop and he stole bases.
Consider that Knoblauch had a .399 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter for the Twins from 1991-97 in more than 3,000 plate appearances in that role. Now consider Ricky Henderson, widely considered the best leadoff hitter of all-time, had a career OBP of .401.
2. Cesar Tovar: Had 3,378 career plate appearances as a Twins leadoff hitter, the most in Minnesota history. He only walked 219 times as a leadoff hitter, but he only struck out 218 times — a minuscule amount. He could steal bases (45 in 1969) and he could drive the ball (59 extra-base hits in 1970, including 13 triples). He was a legitimately above-average leadoff hitter for a long time.
3. Shannon Stewart: Had a strong .358 on-base percentage in nearly 1,500 plate appearances as a Twins leadoff hitter from 2003-06, including a robust .384 mark in 2003 when he nearly single-handedly transformed Minnesota's season after being acquired midyear.
4. Denard Span: The last prototypical leadoff hitter the Twins had before putting Buxton in that role Monday, Span had a .354 career on-base percentage as a No. 1 hitter for Minnesota in 2,569 plate appearances in that role. His 2009 season remains singularly impressive and perhaps underrated: .311 batting average, .392 on-base percentage and 23 stolen bases — with 143 of his starts coming as a leadoff hitter that season.
5. Lyman Bostock: A very promising start for him was cut short first by his free agency departure in 1978 to the Angels and then tragically when he was killed in September of that year. He might have been a 1970s version of Kirby Puckett had things gone differently, but in his limited role as a leadoff man for the Twins (715 career plate appearances), his .363 OBP along with solid power really stand out.
Honorable mention: Brian Dozier and Jacque Jones (both scored runs in bunches thanks in part to power, but neither was a prototypical leadoff man); Shane Mack (underrated as a hitter and especially as a leadoff hitter); Puckett (a decent leadoff man when put in that role, though he rarely walked); Dan Gladden (dynamite in 1987 postseason); Lenny Green (.350 OBP as primary leadoff hitter for Twins during their first three seasons in Minnesota).