The Nationals want to repeat as a contender, and the Twins just want to be good again.
Those two motives led to the swap of 22-year-old Washington pitching prospect Alex Myer for in-his-prime outfielder Denard Span. The trade was announced by the teams Thursday afternoon in advance of next week's Winter Meetings.
Meyer, who was the Nats' second first-round draftee in 2011 and their second-ranked prospect last season, immediately became the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Twins' Minor League system. He dominated the Class A and Class A Advanced levels in his first pro season, recording a 10-6 record and a 2.86 ERA in 25 starts. He also struck out 139 batters in 129 innings before Washington shut him down.
"It caught me off guard, but I'm really excited about it," Meyer told MLB.com by phone. "It's going to be a great opportunity for me. I'm thankful for what the Nationals helped me out with. I'm looking forward to getting ready for Spring Training with the Twins."
Expected to begin the season in Double-A New Britain, Meyer added that he was ready to adopt whatever developmental plan Minnesota has in store for him.
"I'm just trying to learn as much about the organization as I can," he said. "But of course it's everybody's goal to make the Majors. But the Twins will have a plan and hopefully I can follow suit with it and let them make their decisions."
Picked 23rd overall out of the University of Kentucky, Meyer brought with him to the pros an inconsistent delivery in a superlative repertoire. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound right-hander, seen towering over Futures Game manager and Hall of Famer George Brett on the mound in July, has an unusual collection of pitches -- a "no-seam" fastball that ranges 93 to 98 mph, a spike curveball and a circle-changeup. He told MiLB.com in September that he planned to add a more traditional four-seam heater to the mix this winter.
Span, who will be 29 come Opening Day, gives the Nats the ready-made leadoff man and center fielder they coveted this offseason. A first-round pick of Minnesota in 2002, Span reached the Majors for good in 2008. He enjoyed a strong campaign this year, batting .284 with 46 extra-base hits and 17 steals while bringing his usual brand of strong defense.
To get their man, the Nats sacrificed another elite prospect. Nearly a year ago, on Dec. 23, general manager Mike Rizzo traded four talented farmhands -- pitchers Tommy Milone, A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock, as well as catcher Derek Norris -- to the A's for proven starter Gio Gonzalez. Lucas Giolito, a 2012 first-round pick who will miss 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, becomes Washington's top-ranked pitching prospect.
The Twins' talent pool was already deep, thanks to a group of position players led by third baseman Miguel Sano and outfielders Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton. Meyers slots well in front of hurlers Adrian Salcedo and Jose Berrios, who like Buxton was a 2012 first-rounder.