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Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I apologize as a family emergency has delayed my reports on the 2008 team preview. I thought perhaps this delay would make the outlook on the starting centerfield position a little more clear, but after three spring games the leader in this intense position battle remains quite murky.

The battle is a three horse race between Carlos Gomez, Jason Pridie, and Denard Span. Gomez was the centerpiece of the Johan Santana trade to the Mets, Pridie came over this offseason in the Matt Garza deal with Tampa Bay, and Span was a 1st round draft pick in 2002 with the Twins. Each candidate is young, inexperienced, raw, but full of potential.

Gomez instantly becomes the fastest player in the Twins organization. Former Mets teammate Jose Reyes said Gomez was even faster than he was (Reyes lead MLB in 2007 with 78 steals). Gomez is only 22 years old and was rated as one of the Mets top prospects before coming over to Minnesota. Scouts believe he was rushed through the Minors by the Mets as Gomez hit just .232 in 125 at bats last season for the Mets and showed clear troubles at the plate. Gomez does have some pop to go along with his speed and solid defense, but will need to show some development and plate discipline this spring to get the starting nod from the Twins.

The Twins have always shown some affinity for Pridie as they acquired him in the Rule 5 draft in 2005 but he did not make the 25 man roster. Now he has another shot at taking the Twins CF vacancy. The 24 year old batted a combined .304 with 14 homeruns and 66 RBIs at the AA and AAA levels last season. Pridie has shown steady improvement throughout the minor leagues but has no major league experience. He too brings speed, defense, and a decent bat.

The third candidate is the in-house draftee, Span. Span was selected in '02 with the intentions that someday he would fill the void left by Torii Hunter. The Twins figured an '02 selection would be just right to break out when Hunter's contract expired at the end of the '07 season. Span batted just over .300 in '05 between A and AA, he hit .285 in '06 at AA-New Britain, but dropped to .267 last year at AAA-Rochester. The Twins are concerned as Span has seemed to regress over the years, but still have hope he can be the player they believed he could be.

Gomez has been batting leadoff and starting in CF this spring in games that Gardenhire is filling in the "full" lineup, but it's still far too early to tell who is the frontrunner. I think Gomez has the most potential and I could see Twins management wanting to put a player involved in the Santana deal on the field in 2008, but many scouts think Gomez has been rushed through the minors and could use a bit more seasoning. I think Pridie can do a fair job, but I don't see him being a big contributor. As far as Span, I do believe he has the potential to be a good player, but he hasn't shown it yet, and unless he overwhelms during Spring Training he'll start the season at AAA.

My prediction: I think the Twins will give Gomez the starting role because of his tremendous speed and potential to become a great player. I also predict Pridie will make the 25 man roster as an extra outfielder, and will play every outfield spot in a bench role like Jason Tyner has done the past few years. One thing is for sure, I can guarantee there will not be just one centerfielder the entire year. Gardenhire will have to a little more than simply write in "Hunter" on the lineup card like he has for the last 10 years.

MVB readers... who do you think should be the starting CF in 2008?

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