Top 100 Prospects: No. 1 Carlos Santana

The Indians' No. 1 prospect ... Carlos Santana.

After listing more than 150 players and providing player profiles on 99 of them ... what, you're surprised that we ranked Carlos Santana No. 1? The switch-hitting catcher heads the Indians Ink list for 2010. He's just about ready to hit in the majors right now, and working on his catching skills. He's a smaller version of former Indians all-star Victor Martinez, so we call him "Mini Mart."

When Carlos Santana got off to a relatively slow start in 2009, due mainly to the fact many of his line drives were being caught, he looked at Akron Aeros pitching coach Ruben Niebla and said, "Somebody is going to pay."

Did they ever!

By the time the curtain came down on the 2009 Eastern League season, Santana had not only been selected the league's Most Valuable Player, but also led the Aeros to the championship.

In addition, he made great strides defensively and in handling the pitching staff, the latter the result of the Dominican Republic native becoming much more comfortable with the English language.

Santana's performance in all aspects of the game resulted in his being the easy choice as this year by Indians Ink as the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

"I appreciate it very much," said a smiling Santana when told of his being selected No. 1.

Santana, a switch-hitter who will turn 24 on April 4, finished the 2009 regular season with a .290 average, 30 doubles, 23 homers, 97 RBI and 91 runs scored in 130 games. He led the league in slugging (.530), OPS (.943) and walks (90). He was second in the league with a .413 on-base percentage.

"At the plate, Carlos has a rare combination that a lot of hitters find it tough to have," said his 2009 Aeros manager Mike Sarbaugh. "And that is, he is aggressive and yet selective.

"To have 90 walks on the season and still put up the numbers he did says a lot about him as a hitter. It tells you a lot about the confidence he has in his strike zone discipline and the confidence he has in his bat."

Santana struck out just 83 times in 535 plate appearances.

From the beginning of the season until the end, he put up solid at bats. It was impressive how he did it on an everyday basis," said Lee May Jr., who was Santana's hitting coach at Akron.

"His highs and lows were never far between. He just stays steady, consistent. He has a great work ethic. He loves to hit and has a good feel for his swing. He probably was the most low maintenance guy on the team.

"When he makes an out, he never doubts himself. In fact, at the beginning of the year when a lot of his balls were being caught, he told Ruben, `Somebody is going to pay.' That's pretty much how he goes about it."

Niebla was extremely impressed with the way Santana handled the pitching staff.

"When you start to hear pitchers say they want him back there (catching them), that's a good sign," Niebla said. "The guys trusted him more and more calling the game as the season went on. He got increasingly less shake offs.

"That just goes to show you Carlos was really in tune with the opposing hitters. One of his strengths is being able to identify hitters in the lineup and the strengths and weaknesses of hitters. He does a good job of attacking those weaknesses.

"As he goes higher in the organization, he will have more help with scouting reports that he can go from and have a better idea what fingers to put down."

Nibale says the fact Santana spent the whole year at Akron helped because he got to know his pitchers, even though many advanced to Class AAA Columbus during the course of the season and were replaced by guys from Class A Kinston.

"He did a good job making sure he got to know his pitchers and of making sure they stuck to their strengths and executed their pitches," Niebla said.

Sarbaugh was extremely excited with the way Santana, a natural third baseman who has only been catching for a couple of years, grew to love the position. "He really enjoyed it and that was the key," Sarbaugh said. "Converted guys sometimes take a little bit of time to accept their new position, but this year he really liked the position and it showed.

"He really made a lot of strides from the beginning of the season until the end. Overall his receiving skills, handling of the staff and his game calling all improved."

Added Niebla, "He did an excellent job of communicating with the pitchers and it got better as the season went on. One of the reasons why it did was, in talking to him, he said, `I'm more comfortable with my English than I used to be. This year I am not afraid to make a mistake.' That really helped him."

The Indians, since getting Santana and pitcher John Meloan from the Dodgers in exchange for veteran third baseman Casey Blake on July 26, 2008, have said that his ability to communicate in English would go a long way in determining when he would be ready for the majors.

With his improved English, his production at the plate, and the trading of Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach, it seemed the door might have been opened for Santana to take over the No. 1 spot to start the 2010 season.

And it still might be even though he did suffer a setback this offseason when he had to have the hamate bone removed from his right hand in early December. He should need about 2½ months to recuperate, which would have him ready right about the start of spring training.

Santana first noticed the problem during the early stages of winter ball. "He caught a real bad case of the flu," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "When he came back and started to get back in shape, his hand started to hurt when he was taking batting practice.

"This isn't a (bad) setback for Santana. We're thankful it was discovered at this time of the year. The only downside is that he didn't get to play winter ball and work on some things."

The arrival of Acta and the addition of former Tribe All-Star catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. and Niebla to the coaching staff seem likely to help Santana's transition to the majors and make it more possible he could skip Triple-A. All are from Latin America.

If Santana begins the year at Columbus, however, he'll be reunited with Sarbaugh, who will be the Clippers' manager in 2010, and May, who will serve as their hitting coach.

Santana would understandably prefer going straight to the majors.

"I am very happy with the year I had," he said. I believe I improved in all areas. I concentrated on both hitting and defense; to call a good game with the pitcher. It was much better working with the pitchers than it was a couple of years ago.

"My English is very important when it comes to working with the pitchers and calling the game.

"I don't know if I will need to go to Triple-A. I plan to be ready for anything. I will be prepared for anything."

No. 1
CARLOS SANTANA
The Carlos Santana File
Born:
April 4, 1986 in Santo Domingo, DR
Position: Catcher
B/T: S/R
HT/WT: 5-11/190
Acquired: From Los Angeles Dodgers on July 26, 2008, with RHP John Meloan in exchange for 3B Casey Blake.
2010 Projection: Will compete for a spot on major league roster, but could end up at Class AAA Columbus.

2009 & MINOR-LEAGUE CAREER

Team G AB H AVG HR RBI SB BB SO
Akron 130 428 124 .290 23 97 2 90 83
Minors 469 1591 456 .287 62 302 21 288 283

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