We entered 2011 with high expectations for Carlos Santana, and rightfully so. He has all the qualities we look for in an elite catcher and, while the numbers haven’t quite lived up to the hype, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t brought significant value:
418 At Bats
.242 Batting Average (101 Hits)
18 Home Runs
4 Stolen Bases
.350 On Base Percentage
.440 Slugging Percentage
.269 Batting Average on Balls in Play
He has shown a tremendous eye at the plate, posting a 19.5% strikeout rate vs. a 14.5% walk rate. While that hasn’t quite translated into his batting average, courtesy of his below average BABIP, you can see that the skill set is there.
The owner of a minor league career batting average of .290, you can see the potential is there, even as a catcher, to be a .270+ hitter. Part of the problem is a mediocre line drive rate of 15.7%, tied for 16th worst in the league among hitters who qualify for the batting title. It’s not that he is trying to hit home runs (38.2% fly ball rate) and he showed that he can hit the ball on a line in 2010 (21.1% line drive rate). Don’t read too much into the low average, because he has the talent.
The rest of the numbers are impressive, especially for a catcher. Just look at where he ranks among catchers in the counting stats:
- Home Runs – Fourth, two behind the leaders, Brian McCann & Mike Napoli, who have 20
- RBI – Second, two behind Miguel Montero who leads with 62
- Runs – First, two ahead of Mike Napoli
At 25-years old and with room to significantly improve on his average, there is a lot to like about the season that Santana has been able to put together. While no one is going to currently be ranking him as the top catcher in the league, would it really be surprising to see him reach that mark as soon as 2012?
I wouldn’t think so, especially if he can correct the average issue. As it is, he is showing signs of what could be possible by hitting .267 with 5 HR and 19 RBI since the All Star Break. He’s been even better in August, hitting .296 with 3 HR and 13 RBI in 71 AB. If he can follow this month up with a strong September, people’s view of him is going to be significantly different.
Generally, a catcher who brings power to the table is not going to hit for a good average (i.e. Mike Napoli, despite his .294 mark this year, though that’s a story for another day). With Santana’s potential to hit .280 to go with the other numbers he’s showing, exactly what is there not to like?
What’s his biggest advantage? The fact that the Indians look to keep him in the lineup every single day. On days that he is not catching he is found manning first base, giving him a leg up on the rest of the competition. Just look at the Top 5 catcher’s plate appearances for 2011:
- Carlos Santana – 497
- Miguel Montero – 425
- John Buck – 425
- Matt Wieters – 422
- Alex Avila – 413
Think that gives him an advantage over the field? He can hit and he gets the opportunities, is there really anything else you can want? It’s too early to dub him the top catching option in baseball, though come October it could be a very realistic debate. For now, consider him a Top 5 option with all the potential to be the next great offensive force behind the plate.
What are your thoughts of Santana? How good do you think he could be? Where do you think he ranks among catchers?