The return of the minor league season on Tuesday meant that we were finally able to get a look at minor leaguers playing in real games, and not just simulated games at the alternate training site. But arguably the most interesting player in the minor leagues right now for the Red Sox isn’t even a prospect; it’s Danny Santana, the former Rangers utility man who is currently rehabbing at High-A Greenville.
Santana produced middling results from 2015-2018 in a limited number of games, but he had a breakout season in 2019 with the Rangers. After struggling heavily in 55 AB’s last year, Santana had to settle for a minor league deal with the Red Sox, and he’s also been dealing with a foot infection that means he’ll be rehabbing in the minors for a while.
But Red Sox fans have been excited about the possibility of Santana making an impact for them this season. His breakout season wasn’t too long ago, and he wouldn’t have to do much to hit better than Franchy Cordero (.179 BA), Hunter Renfroe (.220 BA), Marwin Gonzalez (.208 BA), or Bobby Dalbec (.191) have hit this season. Plus, he plays all of the primary positions that those four hitters play (more on his positional versatility later).
In Santana’s breakout 2019 season, he had a .283/.324/.534 slash line, 28 home runs, 23 doubles, 6 triples, and 21 stolen bases in 130 games.
He had a very good 91.4 average exit velocity, ranking in the 89th percentile of qualified MLB hitters that year, and he also crushed fastballs, hitting .300 in 220 AB’s against them. However, he did strike out in 29.5% of his at-bats, putting him in the 7th percentile in all of baseball, an awful mark.
Santana did much worse in his 2020 season, although it was a limited sample size; he had a slash line of .145/.238/.237 in 55 AB’s, while hitting just a single homer. Santana also struck out more than the prior season with a 38.1 K%, and he only attempted to steal a base twice. He even fared much worse against fastballs, batting .133 in 30 AB’s against them, and striking out 11 times.
But on the positive side, he still had an elite 90.9 average exit velocity that ranked 63rd among 414 hitters that had over 50 PA’s, so he was still making good contact with the ball. He also walked in 11.1% of his at-bats, and even though it was a small sample size, that was the highest BB% of his career.
Alex Cora has taken advantage of the positional versatility of players like Kike Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez this season, and he could have even more positional versatility with Santana. In 2019, he played 15 or more games in all of the corner outfield positions, as well as first base and second base. He could fill the utility role Marwin Gonzalez is playing right now, taking the field at first base, second base, and left field.
In the event that Santana does get called up by the Red Sox, it won’t be for a while; when Cora was recently asked about Santana’s rehab while speaking to reporters, Cora said that Santana “needs a lot of at-bats [in the minor leagues]. I can’t tell you how many games, but it’s more than two weeks.”
Although he does strike out a lot, Santana still hits the ball very hard, only came to the plate 63 times in his 2020 slump, has positional versatility, and flexed a lot of power during his breakout 2019 season. Even if his potential debut will be delayed, Santana could still be an upgrade over someone like Cordero or Renfroe in the outfield, or Gonzalez or Dalbec at first base.
Photo Credit: Lone Star Ball