Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Danny Santana - Future Center Fielder?

The people are clamoring for a Danny Santana related post, and when the people talk I usually get around to it sometimes maybe.  So let's talk some CF/SS guy sometimes leadoff guy.

When Santana was first called up I put up a post looking into his background, and was strangely and uncharacteristically optimistic.  I am happy to say that at this point he's justified the hype, hitting .313/.349/.463 while playing two of the most premium defensive positions in the game.  If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he'd be tied for sixth in the AL in batting average and would rank second among all major league shortstops (if he is a shortstop, which he is, except when he isn't) in OPS.  He's not a crazy power hitter, but his ISO would rank 4th at his position in the league, and he's a good base runner with 12 steals against 3 caught, an acceptable success rate.  All in all the Twins should be ecstatic with Santana, though we'll get into fielding later.

There is one caveat I have to point out with his hitting, and that's his crazy high .384 BABIP that would lead the entire major leagues and is simply unsustainable.  Now, the good news is he's always had a high BABIP through the minors so it's not as hugely fluky as it would be if it was somebody without some past history of this type, but it's still not going to be able to continue.  Mike Trout is a guy who has always blown buy BABIP league averages, but his career mark is just .361 and as much as I really like Santana, he's no Trout.  Still that's not much of a concern.  His walk rate is down just slightly from his minor league numbers, but his K rate is down as well while he's adding power - all fantastic signs.  He's also putting up a line drive rate of 24.6%, a top 20 mark in the league and a driver of high BABIP (suggesting less luck).  If he can cut down on infield pop-ups (12.3%, a bottom 30 mark) he could be even better.  Really, this kid can hit.

 The fact that he's doing this while learning a new position, a position he shouldn't have to learn on the fly, is all the more impressive.  Thanks to the Twins' complete and total mismanagement of the Aaron Hicks situation and center field in general, somebody needed to suddenly become a CF, and the Twins chose Santana despite his grand total of 25 games played out there in his 4 minor league seasons, just 2 of which came after 2012.  And, as you'd expect, he's been pretty brutal out there.  According to UZR he ranks 29th out of 39 center fielders with at least 350 innings played there this year, although as a testament to how unreliable defensive metrics are some of the guys who rank as worse than him are Trout, Ben Revere, and Andrew McCutchen so take it for what it's worth.  In any case, the eye test backs it up on Santana.  His footwork and the routes he takes to balls are often terrible, and his arm is weak enough that runners have no issue taking extra bases whenever possible.

That's not to say he's doomed to be a below average outfielder.  He has potential, namely speed which I'm sure is what the Twins saw, and he's not exactly a great shortstop so it's not like you're hurting yourself moving him off the infield.  Even if Santana pans out and Byron Buxton lives up to expectations you're ok moving Santana to left (or back to short) since Buxton's supposed to be a good enough hitter to help offset some power deficiency from a corner OF spot.  Which is all just a round about way of saying that with about a half season on the books, Danny Santana looks like a legit major league hitter.  He just needs to find a position.

Is there any doubt the Twins screw this up?

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