The Cleveland Indians have had a rough start to the 2010 season with a 10-14 record, and many fans are ready to see if some of the top prospects from the Class AAA Columbus Clippers can make a difference.
The player that many are eager to see in an Indians uniform is Columbus Clippers catcher Carlos Santana.
In 2008, Santana was acquired along with pitcher Jon Meloan in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers for Casey Blake.
Santana, a switch-hitter, has proven to be valuable on offense and defense for the Clippers, and is considered the top prospect in the Indians’ organization.
Offensively, Santana has started off the 2010 season with a .324 batting average, five home runs, and 22 RBIs.
“I think he has a really great bat,” Clippers infielder Brian Bixler said. “He’s a great player. He has a plan when he’s at the plate and you can see that.”
Santana leads the team in walks, home runs, RBIs and on-base percentage, and was the International League Player of the Week in his first week with the Clippers.
“Right now, I’m happy to be thought of as a top prospect,” Santana said. “I’m continuing to put in the hard work especially on the defensive end.”
Last year, Santana played for the Class AA Akron Aeros, for which he hit .290 with 23 home runs and 97 RBIs.
Santana was named the MVP of the Eastern League in 2009, becoming only the third Aero to earn the award along with Jordan Brown and Victor Martinez.
This was his second-straight league MVP award as he earned MVP of the California League in 2008.
While he spent the final six weeks of the 2008 season with the Class A Kinston Indians in the Carolina League, he finished second in the California League with a .323 batting average. He also had 96 RBIs, 69 walks and a .431 on-base percentage.
The Indians hope that Santana can step in and produce as they try to replace departed catchers Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach.
Martinez was traded last July for pitching prospects Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price. Martinez, who played for the Indians for eight seasons, consistently hit for power and a strong batting average.
Shoppach was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after the 2009 season for pitchers Saul Rivera and Mitch Talbot. Shoppach showed some promise for the Indians, batting .261 with 21 home runs in 2008.
The Indians have featured two catchers this season, Lou Marson and Mike Redmond.
Marson has received the majority of the playing time and has a .224 batting average, with no home runs or RBIs in 16 games played.
Redmond has a .233 batting average with two RBIs and no home runs in nine games.
While Santana has only played catcher for three years, he has proven to have the talent and arm strength to contribute from the position. He previously had played third base and outfield.
“It’s a great feeling as a pitcher to have somebody back there with a really good arm, and knowing that you have somebody behind the plate that will give you a good chance of throwing a runner out if you make a bad pitch,” Clippers relief pitcher Jess Todd said.
In spring training with the Indians, Santana batted .250 in eight games, but was sent to the Clippers for the start of the season to improve his defense.
“I think I’m having a good season,” Santana said. “I’m just working with the pitchers and trying to improve at game-calling. After playing with the Indians in spring training, I feel comfortable with their pitchers. I know what kind of arms they have and some of their pitches so I would be comfortable with them.”
There has been no word of a possible call-up to the Indians at this point in the season, even given the struggles of Marson and Redmond. For now, Clippers fans have an opportunity to watch one of baseball’s top prospects in a minor league uniform.
“He’s here until further notice,” Clippers manager Mike Sarbaugh said.