Carlos Santana Catches on with Cleveland

Don’t look now Dodger fans, but the ghost of the Casey Blake trade of 2008 is coming back to haunt.

Blake was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Los Angeles Dodgers at mid-season in a deal that had me scratching my head from the moment in was announced. In return for Blake, the Indians received breakout prospect Carlos Santana and minor league reliever Jonathan Meloan. Perhaps the Dodgers did not feel that the catcher’s success was for real and was a result of playing in the potent California League.

Blake was by no means a terrible acquisition for the Dodgers. The veteran third baseman has accumulated 6.7 WAR during his less than two full seasons in Los Angeles. He produced the third highest WAR (4.6) amongst NL third basemen in ’09, and the seventh highest in the Majors. However, he’ll turn 37 years old this season and was, at the time of the trade, and impending free agent (who was later re-signed to a three-year, $17.5 million contract that also has an option for 2012).

Santana, on the other hand, has the chance to be one of the top offensive catchers in the American League for quite some time. Now we’re not talking Joe Mauer (8 WAR) good, but think Victor Martinez or Brian McCann good (4-5 WAR a year).

Less than two weeks ago, Indians GM Mark Shapiro was asked about a potential Santana promotion and he told a local Cleveland newspaper:

“While he continues to flourish offensively, defensively he continues to be a work in progress,” said Shapiro. “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. His game calling and leadership have made strides, but his throwing has to improve.”

I’m not sure what changed in eight days, or if it was just a smoke screen, but Santana will make his MLB debut tonight against Washington. Shapiro’s stated concerns about the young catcher’s defense are justified. He’s a converted fielder who has only been behind the dish since 2007 after spending much of his time in the outfield and at third base prior to the move. Over the past three seasons, Santana’s caught-stealing success rate has been 23%, 30%, and 23% so far this season in triple-A. Between ’07 and ’09, he allowed 45 passed balls but had given up just one so far this season, which suggests some improvement in the area of receiving. Santana has also reportedly improved his game-calling skills.

On offense, there is little to not like. At the time of his promotion, he had an OPS of 1.044 and his triple-slash line was .316/.447/.597 in 196 at-bats. Santana also currently has a walk rate of 18% and an ISO rate of .280, so he’s displayed both patience and power. Those rates are not out of line with what he’s posted over the past three seasons. The 24-year-old switch-hitter also does a nice job of limiting his strikeouts and his rate currently sits at 16%. It’s not often that you find a catcher that hits for power and strikes out less than he walks (and can hit more than .300).

In his career, he’s been very good against both right-handed and left-handed pitching. He has a career OPS of .960 against lefties and .879 against righties. A pitcher cannot take his eye off of Santana on the base paths, either. The catcher has gone 18-for-24 in stolen base attempts over the past three seasons.

Fellow rookie Lou Marson, obtained from Philly last year in the Cliff Lee trade, was demoted to triple-A to make room for Santana. Former Minnesota Twin and Florida Marlin Mike Redmond will continue to serve as the back-up in Cleveland. Marson, 24, did himself no favors by hitting .191/.268/.262 with a .253 wOBA in 141 at-bats.

With the promotion of Santana, we have now seen the majority of top 2009-10 prospects reach the Majors. Here is FanGraphs’ Top 10 prospects list, which was released prior to the 2010 season.

1. Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves
2. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals
3. Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
4. Mike Stanton, OF, Florida Marlins
5. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
6. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas Rangers
7. Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland Indians
8. Jesus Montero, C/1B, New York Yankees
9. Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
10. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

As you can see, six of the 10 players are now in the Majors. Of those still in the minors, Brown could be the next prospect called up, if Philly can find room for him. If not, then Alvarez could beat him to The Show. Either way, a lot of talent has already been promoted to the Majors this season and the Top 100 prospects list is going to have a real different look to it in 2011.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

20 Responses to “Carlos Santana Catches on with Cleveland”

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  1. Mason says:

    Clearly I’m an Indians fan, but if he can hit with power, hit for average, and walk nearly as much as he strikes out why couldn’t he put up 7 or 8 WAR seasons. I’m not expecting it, but it seems reasonably possible.

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    • OremLK says:

      It’s much harder to do all of those things at the big league level, and he will almost certainly do all of them at a much lower rate.

      It’s never “reasonably possible” for a player to put up 7 or 8 WAR reasons until they’ve already proven they can do so at the MLB level. That’s MVP-caliber performance.

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  2. WY says:

    “He produced the third highest WAR (4.6) amongst third basemen in ’09, and the seventh highest in the Majors.”

    I think there must be a typo or a missing word here. Maybe he was the third highest among _NL_ third basemen?

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  3. Monty says:

    It is funny that top catching prospects defensive skills suddenbly become up to standard around late May and early June.

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    • BillWallace says:

      Unless the team has an old, fat, useless, but mystifyingly well respected incumbent at the catching position holding on to his starting job with a steely death grip, in which case the prospect still can’t play defense.

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  4. keithr says:

    Posey or Santana (or Soto ><)?

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    • joser says:

      Are you asking which will contribute more WAR this year, or over the course of their careers (to the extent we can project that)?

      Or is this purely a fantasy roster question?

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  5. niiiiiiigggggaaaa says:

    dis catcher palys a mean gitar hell yes dude

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  6. Mike in MN says:

    Sure, in the long run, this could be a bad deal. But in the short run, the Dodgers are no where near the team they are w/o Blake at 3B. The Twins would kill to have Blake over there (which they could have, but didn’t because he’s “too old”). Sure, Santana could be good to great for years, but there is value in the short term payoff here.

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    • ChadMOKM says:

      The Dodgers had to sign Blake to a three year deal in order to have him at third in 2009-2011.

      The Dodgers traded Carlos Santana and Jon Meloan for two months of Casey Blake in 2008 and cash.

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    • ChadMOKM says:

      Actually, if I recall correctly, the Twins were in a bidding war with the Dodgers that offseason. They went a year more and a few million more and won him. If you wanted him on the Twins, they could have had him for money.

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      • Mike in MN says:

        Yup, but as I said, they thought he was too old for a three year deal. His numbers look like the best player in all of baseball compared to what the Twins are getting from 3B this year.

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  7. Slick says:

    Santana was awful at the plate in his debut. Man, these prospects are all too over-hyped. And yes I expect instant success if he is going to be hyped.

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    • Twin says:

      Not sure how you can base that on one game, or generalize it to the other prospects. First games for the other guys on the top 10 list, if that’s indeed what you want to look at:

      Strasburg: 7 IP, 2 R, 14 K, 0 BB
      Heyward: 2-5, HR, 4 RBI
      Posey: 3-4, 3 RBI
      Stanton: 3-5, 2 R

      And they’re doing well overall too. Heyward has a .393 wOBA and Posey’s is close to .500 in limited time. Strasburg has just the one game, and Stanton’s played only 3 (5-14, 2B, 3B), but both have done well.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    Santana’s low pb numbers this year could also be due to pitchers not being willing to throw a 2-strike breaking pitch in the dirt as well.

    At some point, we’ll wait for prospects to perform at the MLB level before we start salivating.

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  9. theseanald says:

    What are your thoughts on Justin Smoak. I have held onto him and he’s rebounding somewhat. I have Huff, Adrian Gonzalez and now Mike Napoli at 1B. Should I continue to DL Brad Lidge for Justin Smoak? I am in a keeper league.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    I saw him a bit today. There are guys that hit the ball hard with hard swings, But Santana seems to be one of those guys that hits the ball hard with just his regular swing. By “hard swing” I’m referring to the all or nothing type swings. Like say Mark Reynolds.

    The announcers were pretty spot on about Santana’s ability and going from MiLB right into the 3-hole.

    Santana sorta resembles a VMart-Panda type with stance and swing path.

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  11. Clayton says:

    He needs to learn to not block the plate when Adam Dunn is casually strolling into home.

    I like that this kid can take a walk too, he’s seems really mature in his plate discipline.

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    • joser says:

      I have to say, that was hilarious. Not only was the collision comical in itself, but the way all his equipment flew off into an instant yard sale made it better than a cartoon.

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