Carlos Santana spent more than a month of his offseason playing in the Dominican Winter League, in an effort to transform himself into a viable third-base option for the Indians.
Santana spent almost three years as the team's catcher, before gradually losing that job during the second half of 2013, as Yan Gomes emerged as one of the best backstops in baseball. Santana remained in the lineup almost every day, but mostly served as the team's DH, while also spending some time at first base. Santana didn't like playing DH so often though, and asked the team about adding third base to his resume. The team has been supportive throughout the winter, but it hasn't been entirely clear what they'd actually do with him once players reported.
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Position players are not required to report to camp until Saturday, but Santana (along with a number of other position players) has already been in Goodyear for a few days. Terry Francona and GM Chris Antonetti sat down with Santana and laid out their plans for him this spring:
For the first few days of camp Santana will work as a catcher, helping out with bullpen sessions and running through drills, but once the entire team has reported and full-squad workouts have begun, Santana will join the infielders and spend most of his time working at third base. The Indians will continue to have him get some work in behind the plate, and depending on who lands the final spot on the bench, Santana may also continue to serve as the team's backup first baseman.
"Whatever they say, I'll do it... like to win and I had a good experience last year with the team. We went to the playoffs. That's very important to me."
Santana is the team's best hitter, so it's important to have him in the lineup as often as possible. There's evidence that players do not hit as well when playing designated hitter, as compared to their production when playing a position on the field. Santana hasn't played long enough for the samples to be very big, but thus far in his career, his production has suffered when he's been a DH:
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
Santana has hit better as a catcher than as a DH, despite a much lower BABIP, and he's hit better still as a first baseman. Some of theorizing that players are more mentally involved in the game when playing both ways, others believe players tighten up physically when sitting on the bench for so much of the game. Whatever the reason, there is a difference, and thus far the difference for Santana has been quite pronounced. If he prefers being on the field, I'd like to see the Indians make that happen at least half the time. I expect he'll spell Gomes behind the plate once a week or so, and he could do the same for Nick Swisher at first base and Lonnie Chisenhall at third base. He could end up at third base more often than that if Chisenhall doesn't take a step forward.
Third base and catcher is not the most common positional-combo in baseball. Only 25 players in history have played 100+ games at both positions in their career and Brandon Inge is the only one to have done it in the 2000s.
When you add first base into the mix, the group gets even smaller. If Carlos ends up playing 10+ games at all three positions in 2014, he'll become just the 21st player in Major League history to accomplish that in one season, as well as the first Indian ever. Only one player on any team has done it in the last decade: Pablo Sandoval in 2008 (I'd completely forgotten he used to catch a bit). If he managed to play 20+ games at all three positions, he'd become just the 6th player to do it (Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx is one of the five!).
I love Carlos, and I love that he wants to be on the field helping the team however he can. I'll be rooting for him to earn playing time at all three positions, and for him to put up another big season at the plate.