July 2, 2014
The Situation: On Sunday, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow indicated that Domingo Santana (the no. 8-ranked prospect in the system entering 2014) still had some developing to do in Triple-A. But with outfielder Dexter Fowler finding himself on the 15-day disabled list, the Astros have a need for an outfielder already on the 40-man roster. Checking off both of those prerequisites, Santana was summoned to the big leagues from Triple-A Oklahoma City and debuted with a three-strikeout, 0-for-4 performance on Tuesday.
Background: Santana, acquired by the previous regime in Houston, came to the Astros as the fourth and final piece of the trade that sent outfielder Hunter Pence to the Philadelphia Phillies. Santana didn’t become a member of the Astros organization until two weeks after the trade went down, having originally been listed as player to be named later. But it's still puzzling that the Astros were able to acquire Santana, who has been tapping into his raw power since entering pro ball as a 16-year-old. It might have been a mistake on Philadelphia’s part, and not in the figurative sense, if you believe this report (and not this denial).
The Scouting: Santana’s profile is centered on his big raw power potential from the right side, which is a rare commodity in the game today. The 21-year-old generates his raw power from massive strength and leverage in his swing, with the credit going to his 6-foot-5, 230-pound build. Santana can put on a show in batting practice, and he even has some talent evaluators grading his raw power at 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
As is the case with many players who show comparable raw power, there are concerns about much of Santana’s pop will show up in games in the majors. With the hit tool grading out at below average (a 40 on the 20-80 scouting scale), the power potential could be prevented from reaching its absolute value.
While Santana is capable of working his way into deep counts, the swing-and-miss in his stick and his selectivity issues can leave him vulnerable. Pitchers can take advantage of Santana by beating him inside, especially when he doesn’t shorten up on his stroke. While his long limbs create leverage in his swing, he struggles to tuck them in and get to offerings on the inner third. On the other hand, Santana can do his damage on offerings left over the middle or on the outside third of the plate. He shows a tremendous ability to tap into his raw power when going the other way.
Santana can provide value elsewhere, too, but mostly from a positional standpoint. He isn’t blessed with fleetness of foot, but he shows better athleticism than most players his size. Combined with his plus arm strength, Santana can play right field without being a liability.
Immediate Impact: Santana doesn’t figure to provide much of an impact out of the gate, as this is likely a call-up to satisfy a short-term need at the big-league level. I am operating under the assumption that Santana will be sent back down to Triple-A once Fowler is off of the disabled list. The Astros didn’t believe that Santana could handle the big leagues as recently as Sunday, and nothing has changed since then. Nonetheless, look for Santana to profile like several other Astros players do, showing an abundance of swing-and-miss that can quickly turn into damage when the barrel meets the ball. Teams will pound Santana inside, and he will struggle with those offerings. But that experience of failure should show him exactly what will and won’t work for him in the big leagues. –Ron Shah
Fantasy Impact: The Astros' lineup features a few swing-and-miss guys with power potential, and it's added another player with that profile in Santana. It’s difficult to evaluate what he will end up being from a fantasy standpoint. He’s a right fielder with the ability to mash and he draws enough walks to somewhat mitigate the strikeout rates he’s posted in the minors. The K's should still be a concern, especially in the short term, as major-league pitchers will take advantage of his weaknesses. In standard 5x5 leagues he’s likely a three-category contributor at most. He’ll have more value in OBP leagues, but even in those formats I expect that there will be a steep learning curve for him.
Santana will have his chances to play through the mistakes and learn at the major-league level, because the Astros aren’t expected to contend immediately and there aren’t a wealth of outfield options behind him to push him out of a job. In the event that he is able to stick around for the rest of the season and get ~230 plate appearances, I would anticipate a low average and around 10 home runs. He’s likely going to hit down in the order, so the RBI/RS opportunities will probably be limited.
Santana isn’t one of the sexiest prospects, and there are big flaws in his fantasy game. Power is at a premium, so if you’re in a situation where you can gamble on a prospect, this is a good target considering the potential playing time and the park. He’s not going to be a no. 1 outfielder option, but he can be a solid third. –Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Ron Shah is an author of Baseball Prospectus.