Center of Attention
Image courtesy of John Rieger, USA Today SportsThrough his first 52 big-league games, Santana is hitting .325/.362/.497 with 21 extra-base hits and eight steals. Although his plate discipline hasn't been great -- he has struck out more than four times for every walk and has looked flat-out overmatched in some games -- his "hit" tool certainly looks legit.
With another season heading down the tubes, the Twins needed a thriving young player they could point to as a sign of promising things to come. Santana has been that.
The Twins needed a speedster that they could plug into the leadoff spot; a spark-plug type that could get on base, run around and disrupt. Santana has been that.
He has also, surprisingly, filled another critical need that emerged early on for the Twins. Santana has made 29 of his 45 starts in center field, a position he played minimally in the minor leagues.
The athletic Dominican hasn't looked bad in center, where his wheels and arm have been nice assets, but that's not his position of the future. And as much as he's helping the Twins by stepping in and excelling when called upon, he is at a critical point in his development and is hardly getting any reps at shortstop.
Santana was already considered a raw defender at short, needing work and polish, and he's not getting the chance to refine his game while spending so much time in the outfield.
Ideally, he would spend the majority of his time at his true position for the remainder of the season. But the who takes over center? With Sam Fuld gone, there are basically two choices.
The New Guy
The Twins snagged Fuld off waivers earlier this year and were able to find his replacement by the same method, claiming 27-year-old Jordan Schafer after he'd been designated for assignment by the Braves.
Schafer emerged as a top-tier prospect five years ago, when he was putting up big numbers in the minors thanks to a potent power/speed combo. He has never been able to replicate that success in the big leagues, where he has a .222/.307/.304 hitting line in parts of five seasons.
He's not likely to be a very productive hitter (he had a miserable .468 OPS in Atlanta before being cut) but there's some value in running him out there a bunch to get an idea of whether or not he might be worth keeping around next year as a fourth outfielder.
Also, he's young enough, and inherently talented enough, that maybe with some regular at-bats you catch lightning in a bottle. It's unlikely, but not impossible.
Of course, there's another guy on hand who could also be auditioned for a role next year...
What About Aaron Hicks?
Sent back to Double-A after another blown opportunity in the majors, Hicks toyed with the notion of giving up switch-hitting and appeared to be running low on confidence.
Now, he's got his swag back. He is once again swinging from both sides, and swinging well. In 43 games with New Britain, Hicks is hitting .297/.404/.466. Over his last 10 contests he has a 1.122 OPS. He's taking walks and, more importantly, hitting the ball hard.
I know the thought of sending Hicks directly from Double-A to MLB, again, makes some people squeamish. But I don't see a whole lot of benefit in sending him to Rochester. He needs to learn how to hit at the highest level. He needs to make the adjustments to have success against big-league pitching.
Being that he's back in a groove, perhaps the time is right to let him try to make those adjustments in a fairly low-pressure environment. A good showing would make it a lot easier to pencil him into the 2015 blueprint, as opposed to a strong finish in the minors.
Then again, the Twins could hardly be blamed for wanting to slow things down with Hicks, letting him finish out in the minors while getting increasingly acclimated to the outfield corners.
What do you think? Who would you like to see as the regular center fielder the rest of the way, knowing that by this time next year, Byron Buxton might already be entrenched for the next decade?