Eight months after suffering a concussion in a home plate collision with Royals catcher Brayan Pena, Denard Span still says
he has "bad days" in which his head doesn't feel quite right, but he has no way of knowing whether or not those symptoms stem from the incident in Kansas City.
Span's situation is unique, in that he had dealt with migraines and vertigo back in 2009, long before taking that blow to the head on June 3rd last season. At the time, those issues were linked to an inner-ear condition. His current maladies might be attributable more to that problem than the concussion, but whatever the case, it's concerning that a 27-year-old continues to have – as he puts it
– "days where I don't feel my best and have to find a way to fight through."
Fighting through has been a buzz word for Span this spring. Clearly, he's a competitor and doesn't want to let this bring him down. But playing through symptoms is not always the best idea, for player or team. We saw that last year when Span went 2-for-35 in a two-week stretch after pushing himself to return, and when Justin Morneau struggled all season before re-triggering concussion symptoms on a diving attempt in the field in August.
The Twins are hopeful that Span, who was getting on base at a .367 clip last year prior to the concussion, can combine with Jamey Carroll, who has posted a .368 OBP over the past two seasons in Los Angeles, to become a dynamic force at the top of the lineup, creating plenty of opportunities for Morneau, Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham.
But if the bad days don't go away, the Twins will need to have a contingency plan in place – preferably someone with the ability to reach base at a solid clip, as they're looking to distance themselves from a 2011 season in which they got a .319 OBP from the leadoff spot and a .289 OBP from the No. 2 spot.
This may have factored into the decision to bring Darin Mastroianni into the organization earlier this month. Mastroianni owns a .370 OBP in the minors, though there's plenty of room to doubt whether his on-base skills will translate to the big leagues.
Joe Benson is another candidate to fill a spot in the outfield and at the top of the lineup should Span be sidelined. Benson got on base at a .388 clip in New Britain last year, drawing 56 walks in 472 plate appearances, but he looked totally overmatched in a late stint in Minnesota, drawing just three walks against 21 strikeouts in 74 plate appearances.
When healthy and doing his thing, Span is an integral cog at the top of the Twins lineup, and his production is awfully tough to replace. When Mauer won the MVP with 96 RBI in 2009, there was no player he drove in more often than Span, who finished that season with career highs in OBP (.392) and runs (97).
The success of Mauer and the rest of the lineup's run producers will be largely dependent on the success of the table-setters. If bad days continue to haunt Span this season, someone's going to need to step up and get on base in his stead, otherwise it's going to mean plenty of bad days for the Twins' lineup.