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Packed Lineup Could Again Help Santana Pack a Punch at the Plate

Packed Lineup Could Again Help Santana Pack a Punch at the Plate

| On 15, Jan 2017

Last season, Carlos Santana finally put on the power display that Indians fans had been expecting since his Major League debut in 2010.

As a catcher in the minor leagues, Santana had the kind of pop in his bat that most baseball pundits believed he would settle perfectly into the heart of an MLB batting order. While showing some power with the Indians, hitting 27 bombs in 2011 and 2014, he has never consistently been quite the middle-of-the-order hitter that the Tribe may have expected.

There have been numerous theories as to why Santana has not been able to maintain a consistent level when it comes to mashing the long ball. In five full seasons before his big burst of power in 2016, Santana hit more than 20 taters only those two times. He once hit exactly 20 and was at 18 and 19 the other two seasons. That 19-homer campaign came in 2015, right before he hammered a career-high 34 out of the park last summer.

From 2011-2015, Santana was not exactly averaging the type of home run total you would expect from the guy who is supposed to be your number four cleanup hitter. With his outbreak last season, the 34 dingers to go with also a career-best 87 RBI was a lot more like it.

Early in his Major League tenure, some wondered if Santana’s catching duties were prohibiting him from truly terrorizing the league’s pitching. He began his gradual shift from catching to the first base/designated hitter job he now holds in 2013. In 2014, with the 27 jacks, the theory seemed to be founded as Santana was only an emergency catcher that season. However, he ceased catching at all in 2015 and hit only 19 round-trippers. It was hard to say the position he played effected his hitting at that point.

What perhaps more so effects Santana’s hitting is the lineup he has around him. In 2014, outfielder Michael Brantley was playing at an MVP level. Opposing pitchers had more to worry about than just Santana and he likely benefited with better pitches to hit.

In 2015, on the heels of strong campaign, other teams likely paid more attention to Santana and gave him less pitches he could groove. Brantley was not quite at the superstar level he was at the year before, either.

Last year, for the first time in his career, Santana had another player in the batting order who had a truly powerful bat. Mike Napoli, signed to a one-year contract last winter, had a monster year with 34 home runs and 101 RBI. The pressure for Santana to be THE power guy was non existent and it showed. Santana, who has always had a good batting eye and an ability to get on base via a walk, was able to hit leadoff on many occasions. Without the pressure of having to be the main power source in Cleveland’s lineup, it seemed to settle Santana down and allow him to be more confident at the plate.

With a loaded lineup that also featured Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez, Santana was not pitched around nearly as often as in years past. Kipnis has been in the same lineup as Santana since 2011. Lindor had only played half a season before 2016, while Ramirez was last summer’s breakout player. Cleveland’s lineup was as strong as it has been since the 2007 squad that lost in seven games in the ALCS.

This year, the batting order could be even better. That could result in Santana finally stringing together consecutive strong seasons at the plate. Lindor will be entering his second full season and third overall. Ramirez should hopefully continue to grow as a solid, high-average hitter. Tyler Naquin, third in last season’s A.L. Rookie of the Year voting, may continue to blossom as well. Brantley, who missed all but eleven games in 2016, is hoping to be around for more of the coming season. If he can be anything close to the 2014 or even 2015 version of what he was, that will make the batting order all the better.

Then there’s the addition of Edwin Encarnacion. He replaces Napoli in the batting order. It is not easy to replace 34 home runs and 101 RBI, but Double E is just the guy who can do it. While Napoli’s season came out of nowhere last year, Encarnacion has been a consistent source of power for five straight seasons. The Indians could only dream Napoli would be the impact, middle-of-the-order hitter that he was in 2016. There is no dreaming when it comes to Encarnacion and the idea that he can hit 30-plus bombs. He also hits for a higher average and strikes out less than the former Indians slugger Napoli.

There is no question Santana is again going to be surrounded by a lineup full of very good hitters. With Encarnacion in the fold, Santana will not need to be the lone slugger in the Indians lineup. Francona can feel free to continue to hit his power-hitting veteran in the leadoff position when he sees fit as the number four spot will be well-manned.

Santana should be the beneficiary of good pitches again as teams will not want to nibble with him, considering the likes of the bats that will come after him. It could spell another highly productive offensive campaign for what will be an eighth-year pro.

If Santana can put together another season that resembles this past one, it will also give the Indians’ deep thinkers a lot to ponder. Santana, who had his $12 million team option picked up within days of the conclusion of the 2016 World Series, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the coming year. Another 30-homer season would put him in line for a nice payday. Cleveland will have a tough decision to make as the team’s payroll is already set to be higher this year than it has ever been. Still, if Santana and his what will be 170 or so career dingers hit the open market next year, he stands to cost a hefty price for a guy who will be turn 31 years old in April. Cleveland may have to decide on offering a contract extension early in the year or competing with other clubs next offseason on what could be a $2 or $3 million dollar per year raise on what Santana will make in 2017.

Of course, the Indians will worry about that when the time comes. If Santana can have a repeat performance of last season, it will help a long way towards the Tribe reaching its goals for this coming one. The Indians certainly have designs on getting back to the Fall Classic and winning it this time around. With a strong cast of players in the lineup, that should help Santana towards having another monster power year. In turn, that would help the Tribe do what it has not done since 1948 and bring home baseball’s biggest piece of hardware in October.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images