Ah, a new year. It means we can all make resolutions for ourselves that will undoubtedly fade away within a matter of weeks. It means we will all spend the next month or two scribbling out the "07" that we accidentally wrote in the date section of our checks, and replace it with "08." But most importantly (at least for nerds like me), it means that pitchers and catchers shall be reporting for spring training in less than two months.
Naturally, there has been little action in the world of the Twins over the past few weeks, which is why nearly the entire blogosphere has been a virtual graveyard. Johan Santana has not been traded, and he might not be. As things stand, the Twins could field a pretty decent team with an established starter at every position -- with one exception. There is no obvious replacement for Torii Hunter in center field. The prevailing assumption has been that the answer would come over in a Santana trade, but with the very real possibility that Santana will still be a Twin in April, an answer might have to be found internally.
For yesterday's Pioneer Press, Phil Miller penned an article on Jason Pridie, a center field prospect who came over in the Delmon Young trade and seems to be the leading internal candidate to fill the team's vacancy in center field. Pridie is an interesting case, in that the Twins showed interest in him back in 2006 when they invited him to spring training as a Rule 5 draftee. Pridie did not make the Twins' roster and was sent back to the Rays organization, where he went on to put together a very poor campaign, batting .230/.281/.304 in Double-A as a 23-year-old. Last year, however, Pridie broke out with a big year, batting .290/.331/.441 in 71 games at Double-A before advancing to Triple-A for 63 games, where he raked to the tune of .318/.375/.539.
As Miller mentions in his article, Pridie is the only center fielder on the Twins' 40-man roster aside from Denard Span, so many view those two as the contending candidates for the starting spot in center field should the Twins fail to find an answer externally. One thing must be stressed here: Span is not a legitimate candidate to start in the big leagues next season.
Because Span and Pridie are both lefty-hitting center fielders with good speed and experience in Triple-A, people tend to group them together as options for the Twins' spot in center field. Both players were selected in the 2002 draft (Span with the No. 20 pickl; Pridie with the No. 43), and both will be 24 on Opening Day.
It is important to note, though, that Pridie appears to be a far superior option than Span. The two players are similar in that both have shown the ability to hit for a decent batting average -- Pridie is a .279 career hitter in the minors; Span .283 -- while neither has exhibited a whole lot of plate discipline. This prevents either player from looking like an ideal leadoff hitter, but the nice thing about Pridie is that he has some power. Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Pridie racked up 32 doubles, 11 triples and 14 homers, while also stealing 26 bases on 36 attempts. Span, meanwhile, has hit a total of seven homers in nearly 2,000 minor-league at-bats, and he set a career high last year with a total of 30 extra-base hits in Rochester. It might be a promising sign that Span has seemingly gone from having no power to having slight power, but he still slugged only .355 and along with the marginal rise in power came a drop-off in batting average (his .267 average tied a career low) and a rise in strikeouts (he struck out in 18 percent of his at-bats, his highest percentage since 2004). Furthermore, for a guy whose game is supposedly based on his tremendous speed, Span has failed to even turn himself into a legitimate base-stealing threat; his career high for stolen bases is 25 and his career success rate is a mediocre 66 percent.
Pridie has been inconsistent over the course of his career thus far, some of which can be attributed to injuries. He has shown several flashes of talent though, and the Twins clearly recognize that which is why they have apparently coveted him for some time. He needs to hone his on-base skills and improve his plate discipline in order to become the top-of-the-order hitter the Twins need him to be, but his combination of speed and ability to poke the ball over the fence make him an intriguing prospect and a far more attractive candidate for the center field job in the upcoming season than Span.