Santana Needs To Achieve All-Star Status In 2012
Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who need to have a break out season if the Tribe is to make the playoffs.
By Craig Gifford
In 2011, Indians catcher Carlos Santana joined the ranks of the elite power hitters at his position. This year the hope is the player entering his third Major League season takes another step forward and joins the ranks of the elite players in the game, regardless of position.
Santana, in just over one season with Cleveland, has shown he can mash the ball. Last year, in his first full year, he hammered 27 home runs and drove in 79. In 2010, he had six home runs in 46 games before a collision at home plate injured his left leg and prematurely ended his season in early August of that year. Where Santana needs to improve at the plate is with his patience and shortening his swing. He batted .239 last year, a disappointment for a player who batted around .300 in the minors.
In 2009, with AA-Akron, Santana had a .290 average. To start 2010, before his June promotion, Santana was hitting a blistering .316 with 13 home runs and 51 RBI in just 57 games. There is little question he has the ability to hit for a high average, as well as knock the ball out of the park, but that has yet to be seen in the big leagues. One thing that will help would be cutting back on strike outs. Santana was fanned 133 times last year. He might also benefit from not swinging at every pitch like he is trying to send it into next year, as he often seems to do.
However, thanks to putting up the power numbers like few catchers did last year, Santana has earned patience in other areas. As the Tribe’s best threat to rip the ball out of the yard in any given at bat, there is no question he will be hitting in the middle of the batting order. This season, expectations have been raised to new levels as Santana could very well hammer more than 30 bombs and plate 100 base runners. If he can raise the batting average around 40 points, Santana will be looked at as a surefire all-star and one of the game’s top players.
Santana will be helped this year thanks to a bit of a defensive shake-up. In 2011, the Indians had their number one catcher learn first base. That was partly to save wear and tear on the 25-year-old, but also because Cleveland’s options at the position were limited. This year the Tribe has added a defensive specialist in Casey Kotchman to first base and he should be there on a nearly full-time basis. Santana will not have the stress of trying to man a spot in the field he is not as comfortable with. He did end up with a solid .994 fielding percentage and will probably play at first occasionally this summer.
However, Santana will be more free this year to focus on hitting and his duties behind the plate. It is the second part of that sentence, behind the plate, that worries some people. Santana is not a liability to any degree, but not be mistaken for a Gold Glove guy, either. Santana’s .989 fielding percentage at catcher and 24 percent success rate in throwing out base stealers in 2011 were not bad.
Back up catcher Lou Marson is considered top-notch on defense and his fielding percentage was only slightly higher at .990. Where Marson stands out and shows the ground Santana needs to gain is with his exceptional 38 percent of runners caught stealing. This is something Santana has worked very hard on this spring, with the help of Cleveland bench coach and former all-star catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr. Reports Santana is improving, defensively.
If that is true, Santana has a real shot to enter another stratosphere this year. Add defense and a higher batting average to already solid power numbers and the pundits who have pegged Santana to be the best catcher in the game one day may soon be proven right.
The Indians and their fans would love it if Santana took that leap this year. Adding another all-star caliber player to a line up the include 2011 all-star Asdrubal Cabrera would certainly help Cleveland close the gap in the AL Central with the Detroit Tigers. An improved Santana is expected and may be the most important improvement the Tribe needs if the team is seriously going to contend for the playoffs in 2012.
Photo: Associated Press
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