The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who will be in a new role this season than they were in 2013.
As a cornerstone member of the Indians for the last four seasons, Carlos Santana could be finding a new way to help the team this season.
Originally drafted as a third basemen by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004, he was quickly converted to a catcher in their minor league system. After being traded to Cleveland in 2008 in the Casey Blake trade, he quickly rose through the system and eventually made his debut in Cleveland in 2010 at the age of 24. Santana quickly became one of the most important players on the team as he was a power hitting switch hitter with great discipline at the plate. The front office realized this early in his career as they locked him up to a long term, five year deal in 2012.
Santana has always been a master of plate discipline. It can be seen in his OBP which over the last four years sits at an average of .374. He knows how to work the pitch count in his favor and draw out a walk. Last year, he ranked second in the American League in walks with 93 of them. He also has great power. He came in second on the team with 20 home runs of his own, just shy of Nick Swisher’s 22 bombs. All around, Santana is one of the most important players, offensively, for the Indians. As a key member of the core of the team, it is important that Santana remains in the lineup as many days as possible to be able to contribute to the offense.
After the emergence of Yan Gomes during the 2013 season, Santana was essentially pushed out of his position at catcher due to what Gomes brings behind the plate. It has been seen since Santana joined the league that his defense is not his strong suit. Whether he’s playing at catcher or at the occasional first base, he does not excel defensively at either position. In 2013, Santana only threw out 18% of potential base stealers, while Gomes threw out 41% of them. That alone shows that Gomes deserves to be behind the plate. With Gomes taking over at catcher though creates an interesting situation for Santana coming into the 2014 season.
This past winter ball season, Santana took it upon himself to return to his roots and try his hand out at third base again. Initially, it was thought that this would be a fun experiment to watch during the winter, but nothing would really pan out from it when spring training rolled around. Third base coach Mike Sarbaugh went down to the Dominican during the winter to help Santana get more acclimated to this position.
When Terry Francona decided during the off-season that Gomes would become the everyday catcher during the 2014 season, Santana was destined to get most of his at bats as the DH with the occasional games at catcher and first base. If this were to happen, it would make it tough for the Indians to justify keeping a player like Jason Giambi on the team who is strictly a DH. Also, Santana is only 27, and he’s a little bit too young to be taking on the role of being a full time DH. Noticing this situation beginning to come together at the end of the 2013 season, Santana approached general manager Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona and told them that he would take some ground balls at third during the winter ball season.
“This was his idea. He came to us at the end of the year because he did not want to be a full-time DH,” said Francona.
This goes to show that not only does Santana want to stay active in the field during the game, but he’s also willing to do whatever it takes to improve the club. Instead of complaining or whining because he’s being moved from his primary position, he’s making the most out of the situation and trying to find a way to make the club better. He also is finding a way to maybe keep him out from being stuck in the DH position.
Over the last couple of years, third base has been a weak position offensively. Most recently, third was mostly occupied by Lonnie Chisenhall, Mike Aviles, and shortly by Mark Reynolds. Combined, they provided a .231/.286/.666 offensive line. If Santana can prove to be an effective defensive third basemen, he would obviously increase the offensive output at that position. Although, just because Santana is better offensively than the previous players to man this position, does not mean that he is guaranteed to be given the job right out of spring training.
“When we leave here, we’re going to have the best team that we think we can field. I will say, the more versatility that Carlos has, the better team we are,” Francona said.
In 2011, Santana had his best season power wise when he hit 27 home runs, and he has not been able to reach that number since then. Although, Santana has yet to really have a breakout season. 2014 could be the season where Santana really figures everything out. As a catcher last year, Santana posted a .249/.370/.821 offensive line with 11 home runs. As a DH and a first basemen, he posted a .288/.382/.847 line with nine home runs. With Santana playing less games at catcher, and more games out in the field or at DH, he seems to be more likely to have a better offensive season this year than in years past. He could be one of the most exciting players to watch develop as the season goes along.
Dedicated, driven, and willing to do whatever he can to help this ball club. Santana wants to bring October baseball back to Cleveland in 2014.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer