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Center of Attention

In a summer that's been marked by plenty of misfortune for the Twins, Danny Santana's shocking success has been hugely refreshing. The 23-year-old's stellar rookie season raged on over the weekend as he piled up eight hits in a pair of victories on Saturday and Sunday.
Image courtesy of John Rieger, USA Today Sports
Through 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?


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44 Comments

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twinstalker
Aug 04 2014 05:11 AM

You're right that Santana needs to play SS.  He might be the best CF the Twins have until Buxton gets there, but Buxton will be there by July, barring injury, and Santana has to be able to handle short to play.

 

I'll take issue that Hicks doesn't need time at Rochester.  At Rochester he'll face a number of pitchers who have proven breaking balls and change-ups, at least at a superior level to AA.  That's what he needs to prove he can hit.  A good slash line at AAA is important for Hicks.

 

Another guy who needs to prove something at AAA is Arcia.  Unlike Hicks, though, it's not the slash line, because Arcia will have a terrific slash line there and has proven it in the past.  His problem at MLB is his K rate, and if you go back to his AAA numbers, his K rate there is alarming.  I've said before (maybe here, maybe elsewhere), and Roy Smalley mentioned it on the telecast yesterday, that Arcia can't identify pitches.  Until he is able to do so, his upside is Jacque Jones, and that would be a shame.  He's got way too much talent to simply be a "guess" hitter like Jones was.  This one is really on Twins management.  Arcia should not be flailing at the big-league level. He should be sent down with a complete understanding of why and what he has to do to get back, which is strike out less while maintaining decent hitting stats.

    • Cris E likes this
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TheLeviathan
Aug 04 2014 06:53 AM

Hicks will see plenty of fringe MLB starting pitchers in AAA, that's where he needs to go next.  We know he can't hit MLB pitching so there is no need to run him out there for another couple hundred at-bats to watch weak contact and flailing from the left side.

 

Let's get him right - that's so much more important for the long term.

    • Cris E and tobi0040 like this
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mike wants wins
Aug 04 2014 07:23 AM

AAA pitchers are much better than AA (as a whole group), and Hicks will be more challenged there. He should be in AAA right now......to continue the growth. 

 

As for Santana, I disagree, and I know no one agrees with me, but I think he's your CF until Buxton is up. And, that might not be half way through next year. I also think they think Polanco has a chance at SS. 

 

Me? I'd leave Santana in CF until Buxton is up. IF Santana has been successful up until then, I'd move him or Buxton to LF. It's not like Santana is a great fielding SS. I don't expect these numbers to hold up, but it is possible he could 280/335/440 or something like that. With some speed, a good arm, and some steals? That's a good enough line if he can play defense out there.

 

Or, maybe he is Ben Zobrist for MN?

    • Brandon and Dman like this
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SpiritofVodkaDave
Aug 04 2014 07:42 AM

Schafer should get about 10-15 starts in CF to see what he has for the Twins, if he falls on his face you bring up Hicks, if he does well, then maybe you wait until Sept to bring Hicks back up IMO.

 

I agree, Santana needs to be playing SS.

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mike wants wins
Aug 04 2014 07:45 AM

Schafer/Shafer/whatever.....he's got over 1000 PAs, and has terrible defense in CF. He's here this year to just to make sure they have a backup OF.

 

IMO, he should almost never, ever play.

    • Cris E and Hosken Bombo Disco like this

Grady said he wants to see Hicks prove he can play in AAA before he gets called up here.

AAA pitchers are much better than AA (as a whole group), and Hicks will be more challenged there. He should be in AAA right now......to continue the growth. 

 

As for Santana, I disagree, and I know no one agrees with me, but I think he's your CF until Buxton is up. And, that might not be half way through next year. I also think they think Polanco has a chance at SS. 

 

Me? I'd leave Santana in CF until Buxton is up. IF Santana has been successful up until then, I'd move him or Buxton to LF. It's not like Santana is a great fielding SS. I don't expect these numbers to hold up, but it is possible he could 280/335/440 or something like that. With some speed, a good arm, and some steals? That's a good enough line if he can play defense out there.

 

 

I was going to say the same thing.

    • Cris E likes this

Schafer/Shafer/whatever.....he's got over 1000 PAs, and has terrible defense in CF. He's here this year to just to make sure they have a backup OF.

 

IMO, he should almost never, ever play.

Remember how upset we got when we a no CF options?  We keep trading our CF for solid rotation candidates whose last name starts with M. so we needed a replacement through this season and possibly next.  He has speed so he does have some value. May be we can find the hitch in his swing that is keeping him from being a solid hitter.

The Twins should not be concerned about fielding the best CF now at the expense of the future.  I would rather lose 1-2 additional games this year to potentially win 1 or 2 more a year in the future.

 

This franchise lacks a long term vision. Nothing is more important on a team that is in the bottom 3rd of the league.  Not having a vision impacts your ability to get out of this group.

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Parker Hageman
Aug 04 2014 09:35 AM
where his wheels and arm have been nice assets

 

 

I don't know if I would agree with the latter part of that statement. We've seen plenty of off-line throws to the plate and an distinct inability to not get behind the ball before making a throw -- something seasoned outfielders do. More experience, reps, etc should improve this but, so far, I've seen a shortstop throwing the ball from the outfield. 

 

In all, I'm excited about his tools but, as Nick said, he's still raw. 

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
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Nick Nelson
Aug 04 2014 09:48 AM

It's not like Santana is a great fielding SS.

 

Right, so, don't you want him playing there and trying to improve? He's 23 years old, right at the crux of his development as a player. If they're hoping he can play short long-term, he should be playing there regularly right now. It just doesn't make sense to use him as a place-holder at another position.

    • tobi0040 likes this

Gardy already said in an interview that Hicks will need to face AAA pitchers before he gets back to the majors. So that means Schafer may have to start for a little bit. Two weeks is okay but it better not be the length that Clete Thomas ended up playing in CF last year.

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mike wants wins
Aug 04 2014 10:05 AM
I guess I am not sure they want him at SS long term. If they do, then yes, they are not acting in a good way, strategically.

Love that Santana kid. His short, quick swing and surprising power reminds me a little of Paul Molitor. Speed, too. With his versatility, he could be a super utility guy, or settle in at CF or SS.

 

As for Hicks, I'm with Gardenhire - let him prove he can hit better pitching in AAA. Hicks was horribly overmatched at the mlb level. Needs to learn situational hitting, pitch recognition. He's going to be a long-term project that might not get back to Minneapolis before late next season. Better that then more unprepared embarrassment.

 

Meanwhile, it's time to bring up more of the kids like K-Var. There's at least five pitchers in Rochester that I'd rather see than Burton, who has really been looking mediocre. I'd like to see S-Gil, D-Gue, A-Mey, T-May, and maybe MarBurg.

Hicks needs to be in therapy.  He switches from switch hitter to one way hitter and back to switch hitter in one season! He doesn't know his own mind and he doesn't have the confidence to face adversity.

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Hosken Bombo Disco
Aug 04 2014 10:55 AM

Love that Santana kid. His short, quick swing and surprising power reminds me a little of Paul Molitor. Speed, too. With his versatility, he could be a super utility guy, or settle in at CF or SS.

 

As for Hicks, I'm with Gardenhire - let him prove he can hit better pitching in AAA. Hicks was horribly overmatched at the mlb level. Needs to learn situational hitting, pitch recognition. He's going to be a long-term project that might not get back to Minneapolis before late next season. Better that then more unprepared embarrassment.

 

Meanwhile, it's time to bring up more of the kids like K-Var Vargas-zie. There's at least five pitchers in Rochester that I'd rather see than Burton, who has really been looking mediocre. I'd like to see S-Gil Gilly, D-Gue Guerra-zie, A-Mey Meyersie, T-May Maysie, and maybe MarBurg Hammy.

Fixed it for you.

 

You obviously aren't from around here, are you.   :)

    • jokin, Sconnie and curt1965 like this

I'd rather see Hicks in CF and batting 9th than Schafer getting any ABs.  Hicks' OBP isn't terrible and he plays a good enough OF.  Not sure he has anything to prove at the AA level.  Would've liked to see either Plouffe or Escobar traded so Santana could play SS the rest of the year and whichever of the former at 3B

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ALessKosherScott
Aug 04 2014 11:06 AM

To me, the question of moving to Santana to shortstop opens up the question of "What do you do with Escobar?" He's older, and not as sexy of a long-term prospect as Santana. But he's having a good season and his power spike and solid-to-good defense at short gives him value, something the Twins have rarely had at the position. I don't have any qualms about leaving Santana in centerfield for that reason, to see what he can do long-term against major league pitching.

Hicks needs to be in therapy.  He switches from switch hitter to one way hitter and back to switch hitter in one season! He doesn't know his own mind and he doesn't have the confidence to face adversity.

 

This is very unfair.  Yes, he lost all confidence at the major league level but still he managed to post a .338 OBP which is pretty much average/above average for this Twins team.

 

He briefly gave up switch hitting -- searching for a way to improve his performance and probably taking advice from a number of quarters.  That experiment didn't last long.

 

Since he has been at New Britain, he has been switch hitting .297/.404/.468/.871 and I believe that someone commented elsewhere that there isn't a huge disparity between the left and right sides.

 

His line over the last 10 games is .371/.465/.657/1.122.  Those slugging and OPS numbers tell me that he is hitting with more confidence because there has been an uptick in his XBH.

 

Now he needs the next challenge.  The Twins need to move him to Rochester in the very near future -- while there are still some games on the Red Wing's schedule.

    • curt1965 likes this

I don't mind Santana playing CF until someone better comes along. He seems to be getting better defensively there.

 

I would like to see Hicks go to AAA now and see if he can get a call up sometime next month. If he can get some confidence back, he still is a very talented player. Maybe when that happens you can put him in CF and get Danny some SS time. Anyway around it, I would like more playing time for guys who might be around next year.

Just to give you an idea where Santana is at, he's got 211 MLB PAs so far with a .859 OPS and a 46:11 K:BB ratio.

 

Pinto at 211 PA had a career .869 OPS and 50:25 K:BB ratio.  This was just about 3 weeks before he was demoted this year.

 

(Also brought to mind 2005 Jeff Francouer, OPS of .966 after 211 PA, 42:8 K:BB ratio.)

 

 

Interesting thing about Santana's minor league career is, it doesn't look particularly streaky.  August was his best month by OPS in both 2012 and 2013.

Actually, Santana finished 2013 with perhaps his best extended streak of minor league hitting ever (.856 OPS from July 27 onward, 157 PA).

 

Selective endpoints for sure, but roughly last calendar year, Santana's got a .803 OPS in 485 PA, .392 BABIP, with BB% and K% more or less matching his 2014 MLB rates so far.  Biggest drag on that is obviously his .630 AAA OPS from the beginning of this season (even then he had a .377 BABIP).

Bring back Denard Span for a year. He's a great stopgap option.

Hicks needs to be in therapy.  He switches from switch hitter to one way hitter and back to switch hitter in one season! He doesn't know his own mind and he doesn't have the confidence to face adversity.

Look, the kid is 24. I remember my maturity level at that age, and it wasn't pretty at times. Everyone is down with Hicks, and I admit there have been issues with this kid, but, IMHO, the talent is there. Same with Arcia ( and Pinto, as well)- this is a lost year. Let's these kids learn in the bigs, against the best competition. I hate watching the K's persist with Arcia, but I believe he has enormous potential.
If you had a son or daughter failing or having a difficult time at their first job, I would hope your first response wouldn't be to send them to therapy!!

Hicks definitely needs to see AAA before MLB. The pitching in AAA is much more polished than AA-- they can hit their spots and exploit holes in swings. It's important for Hicks to build his confidence up, and it seems that a AAA stint is the best way to accomplish that

    • stringer bell likes this

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