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Player Background

The Dodgers signed Carlos Santana as an international amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He was eighteen years old at the time. He burst onto the prospect scene in 2008 as a bat-first catcher in A-ball and was traded at the deadline along with Jonathan Meloan to Cleveland for Casey Blake. His prospect status peaked in 2010 when he ranked # 8 overall in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 prospect list after hitting .288/.413/.524 in a full season at Double-A.

He didn’t appear on any top prospect lists after 2010 because he received enough at-bats in the majors to lose his rookie eligibility. He hit .260/.401/.467 with six home runs, 23 runs, 22 RBI and three stolen bases in 192 plate appearances over 46 games. His defense behind the plate was as bad as the scouting reports had suggested all along, but his bat was as good as promised. Man, that bat:

Year

G

PA

AB

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

2010

46

192

150

23

6

22

3

0.260

0.401

0.467

2011

155

658

552

84

27

79

5

0.239

0.351

0.457

2012

143

609

507

72

18

76

3

0.252

0.365

0.420

2013

154

642

541

75

20

74

3

0.268

0.377

0.455

2014

152

660

541

68

27

85

5

0.231

0.365

0.427

2015

154

666

550

72

19

85

11

0.231

0.357

0.395

2016

158

688

582

89

34

87

5

0.259

0.366

0.498

His numbers show a remarkably consistent combination of on-base skills and power. They also show extreme durability: Santana has played at least 143 games in every season since 2011, his first full season in the big leagues. His bat was too good for the Indians to leave out of the lineup when he wasn’t catching, so while he was still catching regularly, he spent most of his “off-days” from catching somewhere else, mostly first base or designated hitter. Here’s a breakdown of the ways Cleveland has deployed Santana in the majors:

Year

C

1B

3B

SS

OF

DH

2010

40

0

0

0

0

5

2011

95

66

0

0

0

1

2012

100

21

0

0

1

27

2013

84

29

0

0

0

47

2014

11

94

26

0

0

22

2015

0

132

0

0

0

21

2016

0

64

0

0

0

92

He only spent two years with anything approaching a full catching workload. By 2013, he spent half his time catching and half his time either at 1B or DH. He only caught 11 games in 2014, but cushioned the loss of catcher eligibility for roto owners by playing 26 games at third base while primarily playing as a first baseman. The experiment at third base did not continue beyond 2014, with Santana spending most of his time at 1B in 2015 while spending most of his time at DH in 2016.

The only hole in his game, besides a lack of speed that is not unexpected from a C/1B profile, is batting average. He has posted batting averages in the .230s three times in six full seasons, making him a batting average risk for fantasy owners. However, his stellar walk rates give him considerable extra value in leagues that use OBP instead of or in addition to batting average.

What Went Right in 2016

Carlos Santana spent most of his time at DH in 2016 with another former catcher, Mike Napoli, manning first base for Cleveland. However, he did play 64 games at 1B, helping him avoid the dreaded DH-only designation in fantasy. Largely freed from the burden of playing defense, he set career highs in home runs (34), RBI (87) and runs (89). He also had a .259 batting average, which doesn’t sound that great but is a significant step forward from the back-to-back .231 marks he posted in 2014 and 2015. His .366 OBP was excellent, providing lots of extra value in OBP leagues via his 14.4 percent walk rate. And while strikeout rates around the league were headed upwards, Santana posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 14 percent, significantly lower than his 18 percent mark in 2015 and his 19 percent mark in 2014.

What Went Wrong in 2016

To find something that went wrong for Santana in 2016, you have to look pretty hard. While a 14.4 percent walk rate is excellent, it was the lowest mark of Santana’s career, a noticeable decrease from a 16.2 percent walk rate in 2015 and a 17.1 percent walk rate in 2014. His walk rate was still excellent, so that feels a bit nitpicky.

What to Expect in 2017

Cleveland’s stalwart slugger and on-base machine turns 31 during first week of the season, so he could be entering his decline phase despite coming off what might have been his best offensive season to date. Old-player skills have always been his calling card, so he could end up aging fairly well since his carrying skills don’t involve the obvious physical attributes that fade first such as running speed. Manager Terry Francona has said that Santana will be the primary first baseman with free agent signing Edwin Encarnacion being the primary DH, so Santana should avoid becoming a DH-only player for at least one more season. In fact, for fantasy purposes, there’s a chance that the Indians will try playing Santana in the outfield like they did in the World Series, potentially enhancing his positional eligibility for owners.

The Great Beyond

At the end of 2017, Santana will enter free agency for the first time, making 2017 a contract year. That means there’s a decent chance he plays somewhere other than Cleveland for the first time in 2018. If he leaves in free agency, it’s unlikely he’d end up in the National League since he already spends a significant amount of time at DH, but it’s possible that he ends up in the National League as a first baseman. As mentioned before, Santana’s old-player skills make him a decent candidate to age well since power and plate discipline fade later than most other baseball skills.

With regards to fantasy, Santana seems to go later in drafts and for less in auctions than he probably should. While it’s impossible to be certain, I’d guess that this is mostly due to roto players’ memories of the three seasons he posted with batting averages in the .230s. His power, on-base skills and durability make him a reliable producer in home runs, runs and RBI. In leagues that use OBP or OPS instead of or in addition to AVG, Santana becomes even more valuable.