When questioned last week about a timetable for the promotion of 24-year-old top catching prospect Carlos Santana, ranked 8th overall on our own Kevin Goldstein’s pre-season prospect list, Indians GM Mark Shapiro responded, “While he continues to flourish offensively, defensively he continues to be a work in progress. His offensive ability is so strong that we feel it's important to utilize every day possible in the minor leagues to develop his defense.”
It would seem that every such day has been utilized. According to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas, Santana will be on the 25-man roster, and presumably in the starting lineup, when the Indians square off against the Nationals tonight. As Jeff Euston observed recently, Santana’s extended stay in the minors this season has had more to do with contractual concerns than with suspect skills—with Super-Two status safely avoided, Santana is free to follow in the fresh footsteps of fellow super-prospects Strasburg and Stanton, as well as backstop brother Buster Posey.
Shapiro wasn’t completely prevaricating when he pinned the blame for the delay on Santana’s defense; by all accounts, the 24-year-old’s receiving skills could use significant work. However, given the Indians’ major league alternatives (and assuming that regular playing time at a higher level needn’t sound the death knell of his defensive development), Santana’s continued confinement in Columbus wasn’t doing anyone except Clippers concessionaires any favors. The Tribe certainly won’t miss outgoing starter Lou Marson; the 24-year-old is currently sporting a .190/.268/.263 line, and while he acquitted himself well in Matt Klaassen’s catcher defense rankings, Bill Letson’s catcher framing figures paint a far less pretty picture. Because Marson’s glove appears to be an ineffectual tourniquet for his hit-hemorrhaging bat, current backup Mike Redmond may remain in that role to spearhead Santana’s transition team, while Marson heads to central Ohio for some additional minor-league seasoning of his own.
After going 3-for-4 with a homer (his 13th), two doubles, and a walk last night to close the book on his accomplished minor league career (assuming he settles into his new office nicely), Santana’s AAA line for the season rests at .316/.447/.597, good for a translated .316 TAv in the majors. The International League’s OPS leader boasts a 45:39 K:BB ratio and has even swiped 6 bags without a single caught stealing. Behind the plate, he’s gunned down 9 of 40 attempted base stealers (22.5%), and allowed only a single passed ball, after having let 11 get by him in roughly twice as many games at AA in 2009. The Tribe could use some assistance against southpaws, against whom they’ve managed only a .639 OPS; the switch-hitting Santana has struggled against lefties this season (in a relative sense), but has posted a .960 OPS against them over the course of his minor league career, including a .340/.464/.627 outburst from the right side in AAA last season.
The Indians have had almost no one to depend on at the plate this season; they've buried themselves too deep in the AL Central basement for Santana to dig them out, but starting tonight in Cleveland, they’ll look to his potent bat to help them say “se a cabo” to their offensive struggles.