Indians hope Santana’s comfort at first leads to rebound at plate

Having solidified his position at first base, the Indians are hoping for a big offensive year by Carlos Santana.

Mark Duncan/AP

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Last year one of the biggest topics of spring training was Carlos Santana moving to third base and backing up at catcher. This year Santana doesn’t have to worry about being shuffled around as he knows he is at first.

"This time last year he was really excited about trying to play third. He was really going after it," said Terry Francona. "This year is going to be the first baseman and he’s not going to be bouncing around. I think that’s more settling for him."

Santana made six errors the first two months, which gave him the third-worst fielding percentage in the American League at third but played better than expected. What no one expected though was Santana’s offense to suffer. The first two months he batted just .159 with six home runs and 17 RBI. The last four months after moving to first, he batted 107 points better (.266) with 21 home runs with 68 RBI.

After Santana had returned from the disabled list (concussion) on June 6, his .266 batting average was third highest on the Indians, and the 21 homers tied for fourth in the American League.

In the first 50 games, Santana was the third baseman slightly more than half the time and ended up playing four different positions. He had 26 starts at third, 10 at designated hitter, 10 at catcher and four at first.

In his final 101 games, Santana was at first in 89 and was the designated hitter in the other 12.

"Last year I was having too many positions where I felt uncomfortable. Now I feel comfortable," he said.

The work that Santana did at third transferred to first. He had a stretch after the All-Star break where he made some diving plays and saved some runs. Santana had only five errors at first compared to Nick Swisher’s nine.

Moss encouraged after taking on-field batting practice

"He is an athletic kid. Now that he is over there every day there are things he can do where he is not doing it on the fly like not stretching too soon and holding his balance," Francona said.

During the first week of workouts, former Tribe manager Mike Hargrove, who is a guest instructor, has been working with Santana on refining his defensive technique.

Despite the slow start, Santana did end up leading the majors in walks (113) and tied the Indians single-season record for most home runs by a switch-hitter with 27. Fangraph’s ZiPS projections for the upcoming season have Santana hitting .249 (he batted .231 last season) with 23 home runs and 84 RBI. Besides playing only one position, Santana should benefit being between Michael Brantley and Brandon Moss in the batting order.

"Right now everything is feeling great. I worked on everything during the offseason and will have a good approach," Santana said.