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Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Carlos Santana

Mar 23, 2011, 11:50 AM EDT

Carlos Santana AP

Carlos Santana was in the middle of one of the best rookie seasons ever by a catcher when a gruesome home-plate collision on August 2 left him with a season-ending knee injury, but he’s healthy now and ready to make Dodgers fans miserable remembering the mid-2008 trade that sent Santana to Cleveland for Casey Blake.

Because excellent plate discipline is such a big part of Santana’s game and not everyone appreciates the value of on-base percentage relative to, say, homers and RBIs, his numbers may not scream superstar. However, he’s capable of becoming an elite offensive catcher and is also no slouch defensively behind the plate, giving him MVP-caliber upside.

Santana hit .260 with a .401 on-base percentage and .467 slugging percentage in his 46-game debut with the Indians, smacking 19 extra-base hits in 150 at-bats and drawing 37 walks compared to just 29 strikeouts. In doing so he joined Jason Kendall in 1998 as the only two catchers in the past 70 years to crack a .400 OBP and .850 OPS at age 24. And the switch-hitter is capable of even more after batting .296 with 37 homers, more walks (135) than strikeouts (124), and a .983 OPS in 189 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Santana has the patience and strike-zone control to get on base at a .400 clip even while hitting .260, but if his batting average creeps up into the .280 range and his power develops like the minor-league track record suggests he can be an absolute monster offensively at a position where on-base machines are awfully hard to find. In fact, during the past 50 years the only catchers with a career OBP above .375 are Joe Mauer (.407), Gene Tenace (.388), Mike Piazza (.377), and Jorge Posada (.377).

I’ll be shocked if Santana doesn’t join that group.

  1. mmuzia - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Chris Iannetta had an OBP of .390 through 104 games with Colorado in 2008.

    • Aaron Gleeman - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:13 PM

      Yes he did, but 2008 was Iannetta’s age-25 season.

      • mordecofe - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:15 PM

        Think mmuzia is talking about your second to last sentence.

  2. ThatGuy - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    Mauer had .429 OBP and a .936 OPS at age 23…

    • Aaron Gleeman - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:13 PM

      In doing so he joined Jason Kendall in 1998 as the only two catchers in the past 70 years to crack a .400 OBP and .850 OPS at age 24.

      • mordecofe - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:22 PM

        I’d argue that your sentence is a bit confusing – I read it as well to mean “by age 24″ rather than at that specific age.

        Not as bad as this one bit about Santana from Fangraphs, however:

        “Carlos Santana has only played forty major league games, but he’s already topped one significant leaderboard with his play. Consider this little nugget: Last year, he put up the best OPS by a switch-hitting catcher debuting under the age of 25 with 30 or more games.”

      • ThatGuy - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:37 PM

        I know you meant specifically 24, but in saying it as you did it made it seem more exclusive than it was and it is a rather arbitrary cutoff.

  3. Lukehart80 - Mar 23, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    Thanks, Aaron, now I know who to blame if Carlos DOESN’T become one of the greatest offensive catchers ever!

  4. tartan1 - Mar 23, 2011 at 6:06 PM

    Ryan Hanigan has a career .379 OBP in 196 major league games.

    • Aaron Gleeman - Mar 23, 2011 at 7:15 PM

      When the context is “everyone in the past 50 years” I’m not counting guys with 196 games. I appreciate you all pointing out various catchers with good OBPs, but I assure you I didn’t just pick names out of a hat to come up with the lists above. None of the players mentioned meet the criteria.

  5. tartan1 - Mar 23, 2011 at 6:17 PM

    And as long as we’re discussing small sample sizes, Geovany Soto also did the .400-.850-age 24 thing in 18 games.

  6. tartan1 - Mar 23, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    Maybe you could mention said criteria in your articles, so it doesn’t look so random. At least less random than using 46 major league games to predict entry into what apparently is a very exclusive group.

  7. Aaron Gleeman - Mar 23, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    Maybe you could mention said criteria in your articles, so it doesn’t look so random.

    Fair enough, but several of the specifics I mentioned were ignored by commenters anyway. And, just in general, if someone is talking about all-time leaders you can safely assume the cutoff is a whole lot more than, say, 100-something games.

    At least less random than using 46 major league games to predict entry into what apparently is a very exclusive group.

    Isn’t the whole point of predicting something to do so before it actually happens? Wouldn’t make much sense to predict he’ll join the club 10 years into his career.

  8. tartan1 - Mar 23, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    Dick Dietz also hates your cutoffs Aaron Gleeman.

    And yes, I fully support predictions before they actually happen.

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