Carlos Santana has been a bit of a nomad in his professional baseball career. He came up in the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ system as a third baseman, and he was traded to the Cleveland Indians before being converted to a catcher. The Tribe always loved Santana’s bat; he was a young, smooth-swinging power hitter. Yet defensively, he struggled to find a home.
Santana was a below-average catcher for the Indians from 2010-13, never catching more than 26 percent of would-be base stealers and allowing 19 past balls during that span. Accordingly, when Yan Gomes blossomed as a defensive stud with pop for the Tribe after coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays, Santana was booted from the position. He was used mainly as a DH down the stretch in 2013 and seemed disgruntled that the Indians had taken him out of the field.
Accordingly, when the Lonnie Chisenhall failed to seize third base, Santana approached Terry Francona about returning to his old minor league position. Francona urged Santana to try it out in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, and the early reports were promising. Santana came into Spring Training and beat out Chisenhall at third, becoming the everyday starter.
Santana then fumbled, committing six errors in 35 attempts while compiling a mere .906 fielding percentage. Chisenhall’s bat got hot and he was handed third base once more, leaving Santana without a position. It seemed he was destined to be a DH.
However, Nick Swisher, Cleveland’s everyday first baseman, went down with bum knees, leaving first base open for Santana to take. Santana has since been a Top-3 defensive first baseman according to Fangraphs, fielding exceptionally well and committing only four errors in 65 games. It seems his third base training has helped him improve on grounders and ranging to his left, and his batting has improved since changing positions as well.
Luckily for the Indians, Santana finally seems comfortable, as he settles into an everyday role he can both enjoy and be productive in.