For a game that can almost wholly be broken down into component parts via statistics you may not know exist, it's difficult to quantify just how much Danny Santana has meant to the Twins this year. Sure, we can say "he's been worth 1.9 fWAR through 61 games," but that's boring. Also, it doesn't really help us look at what Santana might be able to provide the Twins in 2015 and beyond.
Through play on Wednesday, Santana has hit .331/.369/.483 in 253 plate appearances. That has included 132.2 defensive innings at shortstop and 336.1 in center field, where defensive metrics grade him out negatively but not by a great deal. We've seen him in the field, mostly in a position to which he was unaccustomed, and it's fair to say that he's done more than an admirable job taking over for a position that has seen too many players come and go: Aaron Hicks, Darin Mastroianni, Alex Presley, and Sam Fuld. He's been a spark plug for Ron Gardenhire at the top of the lineup.
Center Field: Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton, Eduardo Escobar
Shortstop: Eduardo Escobar, Jorge Polanco
It's probably safe to say that Santana has his work cut out for him at both of these positions. At short, Escobar will be the incumbent going into 2015 after taking over the position from Pedro Florimon and performing A) very well on defense, and B) adequately on offense. In center field, Buxton is unlikely to make the team until later in 2015 barring something unexpected, and Hicks, as a true center fielder, would be given preference over Santana for the starting job if all things are equal.
Minor league track record
This is where expectations for Santana going forward kind of get yanked back to earth. Santana has always possessed above average contact skills and a solid defensive tools and acumen, but his ceiling has been limited not necessarily because of his power but because of his lack of walks. His offensive value in the minor leagues was almost entirely tied up in his batting average, and giving 600 plate appearances to those kinds of players will result in violent variations in performance...if the team is lucky.
Santana has just 24 games to his credit in Triple-A, so in spite of a .692 OPS we can look past that. In 131 games at Double-A, Santana hit .297/.333/.386 with two homers, 22 doubles, 24 walks and 94 strikeouts. That's a 4.1% walk rate, which is to say he walked as often as Delmon Young did in the Major Leagues. In his minor league career, spanning 2,352 plate appearances, Santana's triple slash is .273/.317/.391 with a walk rate of just over 5%.
It's always nice when a player's Major League performance out-paces what he did down on the farm, and Brian Dozier is example 1A when hoping players are capable of making that leap. But that's the exception, not the rule, and Santana's .399 batting average on balls in play isn't sustainable...even for a guy whose balls in play are line drives nearly 26% of the time.
What's his role for the 2015 team?
Although Santana's production is highly likely to trend downward, he's been good enough and versatile enough this year that he would need to play himself out of a roster spot on opening day next spring. In some sense he fills a similar profile as Escobar, but even if the Twins went out and paid for a shortstop on the free agent market (Hanley Ramirez, anyone?) Santana's spot on the bench looks secure.
Where do you see Santana fitting in next year?