Santana excited about move back to shortstop
MINNEAPOLIS — Danny Santana insists that nothing surprised him during his rookie year with the Minnesota Twins in 2014. As a 23-year-old in his first big-league season, Santana batted .319 and stole 20 bases in 101 games. And he did most of that while playing out of position, shifting from shortstop to center field.
Rarely, if ever, did he look overwhelmed.
Perhaps the only time Santana has seemed nervous since his big-league debut was last week when he accepted the award as the Twins’ Most Outstanding Rookie at the annual Diamond Awards. Receiving the award meant giving a short speech in front of a room of a few hundred people at Target Field. It also meant speaking in English, the second language for the Dominican Republic native.
"Nervous, a lot," Santana recalled. "A couple times, I (couldn’t) find the words to say."
Santana is still learning to master English, a skill that came a long way during his first season in the majors. When it comes to the rest of baseball, Santana held his own just fine. And now it appears he’ll be spending most of the 2015 season back at his natural position of shortstop.
Of the 101 games Santana played as a rookie, only 32 of those came at shortstop. He was moved to center field out of necessity as the Twins had no one else who could hold down the position on a regular basis. So despite learning a new spot on the field, Santana’s natural athleticism allowed him to thrive while roaming the outfield. Though advanced defensive metrics might suggest Santana was a below-average center fielder, he held his own given the circumstances.
There was no hiding the eagerness in Santana’s voice at TwinsFest when he spoke about moving back to shortstop this season. It’s the position he played in the majority of his 529 minor-league games since Minnesota signed him in 2007.
"I’m excited about that," Santana said. "I love shortstop. It’s my natural position. I like center field, too. But I like shortstop more."
With all of that said, the starting job has by no means already been handed to Santana. He’ll have competition this spring from two players with more big-league experience than him: Eduardo Escobar and Eduardo Nunez, who played 86 and 17 games at shortstop, respectively, in 2014. Escobar is capable of playing multiple infield positions, while Nunez has also played some outfield, along with second base and third base.
As confident as Santana feels about his ability to play shortstop, Escobar feels the same way. The 26-year-old Venezuela native had the best year of his career in 2014, hitting .275 with 37 RBI in 133 games. Though he may profile better as a utility infielder, he’ll give Santana a push at shortstop.
"This season for me is very important," Escobar said. "I’m coming to spring training ready to play. . . . Whatever (happens), I’m ready for it."
New Twins manager Paul Molitor will have a decision on his hands as he attempts to juggle a number of young infielders, all of whom have done things to show they belong at the major-league level. While Santana may have a slight edge over the others at shortstop, Escobar and Nunez are still in the mix.
It’s perhaps a good problem for Molitor to have, but it’ll make for an interesting competition in spring.
"It’s probably been one of the more awkward things for me this winter in dealing with that situation," Molitor said. "We have question marks at shortstop, center field and potentially utility infielder and backup catcher. Obviously, I have to go in there open-minded about how it will play out. I can’t say Santana will be the shortstop because things can change."
Santana hopes they don’t change, although he knows he can’t rest on the laurels of his rookie season. As good as his numbers were, there are still parts of his game he wants to improve. That includes his walk rate; he walked just 19 times and had 98 strikeouts in 430 plate appearances. His on-base percentage of .353 was the second-highest on the Twins, but Santana thinks it can be even better in 2015.
If that’s the case, it’ll be hard for Molitor and the coaching staff to take Santana’s name out of the lineup card.
"I have tools for that," Santana said. "I need to show that, because they know what I can do at shortstop and every position. But not in the big leagues. In the minor leagues, yes. In the big leagues, no."
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