Friday, September 5, 2014

Danny Santana, superutility player

Danny Santana has been a fixture in the leadoff spot,
but he has started just 20 games at shortstop.
The recall of Aaron Hicks of the last month of the season gave the Twins two "true" center fielders (Hicks and Jordan Schafer), and prompted many of us to assume that September would see Danny Santana get an extended trial at shortstop.

Santana did start at short on Wednesday. On Thursday, however, he was back in center field. Which led to (knowledgeable) fan reaction such as this:

I've made similar points about Santana's use over the past month or more. But something occurred to me this week, also in conjunction with the September callups: While we in Minnesota haven't seen Santana play shortstop regularly, the Twins organization has.

I'll guarantee you, the Twins have on file (either electronically or on paper) report upon report from minor league managers Jack Mauer, Jeff Smith and Gene Glynn (each of whom has managed Santana during the past three years) about his defense.

In talking this week about September callup Doug Bernier, Ron Gardenhire mentioned that when the Twins called up Santana earlier in the season, it was Bernier who was "recommended" for the call. That recommendation, I infer, came from Glynn, who had both players at Rochester.

Theory: The Twins already have a pretty good idea about Santana's "instincts and decision-making" at short, and about his reliability and consistency on the routine plays. That idea is: You don't want him playing the position six days a week.

The Twins are never likely to say that out loud. They're not going to publicly belittle his talents, and besides, Eduardo Escobar could sprain his ankle on Saturday and pretty much force the Twins to deploy Santana at short.

But if my theory is correct, Santana might be the kind of "superutility" guy Gardenhire suggested during spring training that he was looking for, a player he can use in the manner that Tampa Bay uses Ben Zobrist: in the lineup everyday, but moving from position to position.

The Santana we've seen this year at the plate is certainly productive enough to carry a key offensive role. The Santana we've seen in the field is good enough to get by at up-the-middle positions, but not a truly high-caliber glove man. And a key to Zobrist and other superutility types: They hit enough to stay in the lineup.and field well enough to play a key position but not so well that they can be a regular there.

I can envision Santana, when Byron Buxton arrives to take over center field, shifting to left for the bulk of his playing time, but getting a few games at shortstop and center to give the regulars there a day off. That's the kind of flexibility Zobrist gives the Rays, and that Michael Cuddyer used to provide for Gardenhire.


  1. Your point is well made, Ed, but I would take issue with one statement. If the Twins do feel this way, I'm not sure it's accurate to say they are never likely to say so. They certainly have not been shy about making similar comments concerning Josmil Pinto's defensive abilities behind the plate. When the media inevitably starts pressuring Twins FO and field staff for an explanation, I would expect them to point out that Santana has not, historically, been a defensive wizard at SS.

  2. I agree with Jim. The Twins have seemed to regularly discuss shortcomings in the games of younger players. Hopefully the way you suggest Santana is being handled is a new way the Twins are going. I don't think it does a young player any good to see his deficiencies being discussed in the media. I sometimes wonder if they aren't spending too much time raising parts of players games to mediocrity while the part of their game that is reason why they were advanced in the first place is allowed to atrophy.

  3. Trevor Plouffe played minor league SS for about 7 years, and the people in the Twins system still did not realize he couldn't handle the job in the majors (and that he could barely stick at third). Is their evaluation of Santana any better?