Wetmore: 5 thoughts, is Danny Santana the future at SS for the Twins?
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Royals chased Twins starter Tommy Milone after an inning and a third, part of which came in a heavy downpour that should have halted play. That's not to make an excuse for Milone, who didn't pitch well, but it didn't make sense to delay the game into a rain storm and then play through said storm. Joe Mauer, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia homered as the Twins lost, 12-6.
This column presents 5 thoughts on the Twins' future at shortstop.
As always, feel free to ask questions or make observations in the comments. If you have a unique baseball observation during a game, feel free to share it with me on Twitter (@DerekWetmore).
1. Danny Santana started at shortstop for the second game in a row. I wrote in early August that acquiring Jordan Schafer gave the Twins the flexibility to give Santana an extended look at shortstop to see if he could be the future at that position. Now it appears that's the route the Twins are taking.
The Twins haven't told Santana that he's moving to shortstop for good, but it would appear to make sense to figure out if he can handle the position on a full-time basis.
Is he the Twins' future at shortstop?
2. Santana's exceptionally strong arm and speed should be positive tools at the position, but just like center field there is more to playing it well than being fast and strong. It's fair to expect he'll have good range in the infield, but how is his glove and will his strong throws be erratic? That's a question I would want answered if I ran the Twins.
The Twins' approach this season with Santana in center has been to lower expectations. He last played center in low-A ball, and spent most of his minor league career as a shortstop. If he missed a play this season that an ordinary centerfielder might make, the Twins have publicly accepted it because he isn't a centerfielder by trade. That won't be the case at shortstop. His speed helped mask some minor flaws in center, but it's difficult to imagine something similar happening at short if, for example, he doesn't have an accurate arm.
3. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said recently that Santana is good at "separating" his plate appearances from his fielding, meaning he can mentally compartmentalize the two and not let a slump in one affect the other. That's a good sign.
That would suggest that getting yanked between positions would not affect him at the plate. Some believe that a player having to worry about multiple positions can have an adverse impact on his bat because there's more noise in his head. There are more things to keep track of, as opposed to being "comfortable" knowing where you'll play defensively each day (or which position you'll hit in the batting order). I don't know whether or not that's true but either way it would seem a good skill to have to not allow defensive shuffling to hurt your offense. That's Gardenhire's observation of Santana and that could bode well for the 23-year-old.
Here's what Gardenhire said, according to Reusse, in the same article referenced earlier: "I think going to center field actually helped him to relax. At shortstop, something goes wrong and a young player might start rushing things. In center, we just told him to do his best, and that's been pretty darn good."
With heightened expectations in the field at a premium defensive position, will Santana continue to hit line drives and get on base?
4. Santana has put together a remarkable offensive season so far for the Twins. His best season at the plate in the minor leagues (above rookie ball) was in 2012, when he hit .286/.329/.410 at Class-A Advanced. He certainly was a prospect on the radar entering the season, but I don't believe anybody could have predicted with confidence that he'd hit .318/.356/.465 through 263 plate appearances in the Majors.
It's fair to expect those numbers to drop if and when his .384 batting average on balls in play regresses closer to the league average of roughly .300. But his line drive rate of nearly 25 percent and his extreme speed suggest he can maintain a BABIP that is higher than league averages. If Santana had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, he would be tied among shortstops for the league lead in line drive rate (24.6 percent). For comparison's sake, that's better than some of the top offensive shortstops in baseball right now: Hanley Ramirez (21.5 percent); Troy Tulowitzki (23.3); Jhonny Peralta (22.0); Starlin Castro (21.8); Jose Reyes (22.1); and Alexi Ramirez (18.2).
And Santana's wheels help turn more infield ground balls into hits than an ordinary player.
5. How will other players factor into the decision? Eduardo Escobar started Sunday at third base and Trevor Plouffe was benched. Escobar has played a nice shortstop for the Twins this season and his .314 weighted on-base average and 99 weighted runs created both are above league average for the position. Santana appears to have higher upside than Escobar but it's possible the Twins' best 2015 alignment has both players in the lineup.
With super-prospect Byron Buxton's development halted by a year full of injuries, it's extremely unlikely he'll start the season as the Twins centerfielder in 2015. If that's the case, will the Twins entrust center field to newcomer Jordan Schafer (or a similar, inexpensive free agent) or Aaron Hicks? Or will they roll out Santana to center and look in other areas to find a shortstop?
Don't forget about prospects Jorge Polanco, Nick Gordon and to a lesser extent Eddie Rosario, who all could factor in at shortstop. Rosario probably doesn't have the glove to play short in the Majors. Gordon is 18 years old and years away from factoring into the Major League roster.