Carlos Santana, the primary catcher for the Cleveland Indians, has done one thing well since he got to the majors: hit.
Since making his major league debut in 2010, his defense has been less than desirable, but with a career .254/.367/.446 triple-slash line, Santana has hit like one of the best backstops in the game.
However, with a breakout season from Yan Gomes in 2013, Carlos Santana was free to take his defensive skills to first base and DH. Santana played just 81 games at catcher as Gomes proved his worth to Terry Francona and the Cleveland front office.
This allowed the Cleveland catcher to experiment in winter ball. Santana played third base in the Dominican Republic and is still on track to take over the third base job this spring. Catcher is not considered an offensive position and third base is mixed, but definitely still has a higher bar to be cleared with the bat than those behind the plate.
Santana hit 20 home runs, trailing just Matt Wieters (22), Wilin Rosario (21), and J.P. Arencibia (21), among catchers who, like Santana played at least 81 games at the position in 2013. With 39 doubles he trailed only Yadier Molina (44) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (40). He led all catchers in walks with 93, and edged out Buster Posey in on-base percentage .377 to .371. Santana’s .832 OPS was third behind Yadier Molina (.836) and Jason Castro (.835).
It’s not out of bounds to call Carlos Santana the strongest offensive catcher of 2013 given his combination of patience and power. Yan Gomes (.294/.345/.481 with 11 home runs, 18 doubles) was no slouch either, with some better glove work to go along with his batting line. If the Indians do make the Santana change permanent, or simply his primary position while serving as backup catcher, how would he fare against those who manned the hot corner in 2013?
Taking Miguel Cabrera and his absurd .348/.442/.636, 44-home run season out of it, and Santana could step in and match up well to his new peers.
Just going by 2013 OPS totals, Santana put up the sixth best season (remember, Cabrera is number one) and compares reasonably well in home runs and doubles. His OBP would have been the fourth best behind Cabrera, Wright, and Donaldson. With 93 walks he actually drew more free passes than Cabrera (90), although Santana did have a few more games in which to do so. His batting average isn’t great, but it’s a far cry from the Pedro Alvarez’s of the world.
Incumbent third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall owns just a .244/.284/.411 career line over parts of three seasons. Now 25, Chisenhall is running out of time to prove himself. If Santana looks alright defensively, the former prospect may find himself back in the minors to begin 2014.
Santana, on the other hand, looks to transition to another position where his bat will be valuable and his defense, hopefully, won’t harm the Indians as much as it did from behind the plate. In 2014, Carlos Santana the third baseman could be as valuable to the Indians in real life as Santana the catcher, with his power, has been for fantasy teams in leagues around the country.