"Sabermetrically and with a scout's eye, he's a front line defensive center fielder," Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters after the 2012 trade with the Minnesota Twins that brought Denard Span to the nation's capital.
"He's a confident leadoff type of hitter," Rizzo continued. "He appeals greatly to us because of his skill set as an offensive player. You know, high average guy, .350 OBP-type of guy, doesn't strike out -- one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out -- so a contact bat and can really, really run... from the left side of the plate, which keeps our lineup balanced and a guy that in the past has stolen a lot of bases and we feel is really going to come into his own as a base stealer in the National League."
In his final season with the Twins, Span stole 17 bases in 23 attempts.
In his first season in D.C., Span stole three more, taking 20 bases in 26 attempts. He wasn't quite the high-average, .350-OBP guy the Nationals were looking for, at least not in the first half.
In 89 games and 390 plate appearances in the first half of the 2013 campaign, Span put up a .263/.320/.358 line with 10 stolen bases in 14 attempts, 29 walks and 48 Ks. In the second half, he put up a .302/.337/.413 line with 10 steals in 12 attempts, 13 walks and 29 Ks over 64 games and 272 PAs.
As the Nationals made a run toward the end of the season, Span really turned it on.
From August 15th through his final game on September 28th, the Nats' leadoff man put up a .323/.360/.437 line, with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts, nine walks and 21 Ks over the last 41 games and 181 PAs of his first campaign in D.C., looking very much like the player Rizzo said he could be when the trade with the Twins went down.
In a January interview at NatsFest, Span talked about just wanting to keep doing what he did at the end of the 2013 season.
"I'm just looking forward to going out this year and building off my last month and a half of the season and just doing bigger and better things," Span said. "I'm excited."
Happy as he was with the way the season ended, however, Span wanted to improve on one aspect of his game.
"I haven't been as successful stealing bases in my career," he said, "but that's something that every day I strive to get better at and I will get better. I'll get more than 20 this year, I'll tell you that.
"I've studied film. I've studied some Rickey Henderson film. Some Vince Coleman film.
"I've got a speed coach, obviously, that I work out with every offseason. But I've been doing a lot of plyometrics, a lot of explosive stuff, and just trying to improve in any way I can. Work on reaction time, little drills, stuff like that so, hopefully, I'm confident that that is going to translate over onto the field."
Span stole his 20th base of the season (in 22 attempts) on July 30th, when he swiped the second of two bags in a 4-3 win over the Miami Marlins. He reached his goal of getting "more than 20" stolen bases four days later when he stole his 21st in an 11-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. He matched his previous career-high in stolen bases on August 19th when he stole his 26th in 31 attempts.
On Thursday afternoon, Span set a new personal high in stolen bases when he took his 27th base of the season, taking second after a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth when he and everyone in Nationals Park knew he would attempt to put himself in scoring position in what was then a 0-0 game.
Span when a reporter told him he had '28' steals on the season: '27. I know. I know these things.' #Nats— Chase Hughes (@chasehughesCSN) August 22, 2014
The difficult circumstances in which he set his own personal season-high impressed Nats' skipper Matt Williams.
"Knowing that everybody knows," Williams said, "especially [Arizona manager Kirk Gibson] and the Diamondbacks know he's going to try, we've got to try to get in scoring position there. [Reliever Evan Marshall is] quick to the plate. [Span] picked a good pitch to go on, slider, so he had a little bit extra time and that may have made the difference. It's a pretty good throw.
"[Marshall is] less than 1.3 to the plate, so he got a good jump and made a nice slide. The slide is really important, so everybody knows that at some point it's going to be off-to-the-races there to try to get to second and he did a nice job of getting there."
Span stole second and then scored on Anthony Rendon's single in the next at bat when D-Backs' third baseman Jordan Pacheco bounced a throw by first baseman Mark Trumbo and into the photographer's well at the far end of the first base dugout.
Span's 2 for 3 day at the plate left him with a .302/.355/.402 line on the year after 117 games and 535 PAs in which he's walked 42 times and struck out in just 53 at bats. The run scored was his 76th of the season, one more than he scored in 153 games in 2013 and 21 short of his previous career-high of 97 runs scored in 145 games in 2009.
Span isn't done yet.