Tomase: Danny Santana is looking like a steal for Red Sox originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
There are more players than everyday jobs in the big leagues, which means that every offseason, someone talented inevitably falls through the cracks.
This past winter it might have been Danny Santana.
Once a Rookie of the Year candidate with the Minnesota Twins, Santana regressed for four straight seasons until breaking out with the Texas Rangers in 2019, slamming 28 home runs while posting an .857 OPS. The fact that he possessed 20-steal speed as well as the ability to play every position on the diamond should’ve given him some value.
Except Santana endured a miserable 2020 with the Rangers, hitting just .145 in 15 games before undergoing modified Tommy John surgery in September to repair a torn elbow ligament. He was supposed to be sidelined for eight months, but the Red Sox signed him to a minor-league deal in early March, and just when it looked like he might have a shot to make the Opening Day roster, a foot infection sidelined him through April.
He returned for the minor league season and was promoted at the start of the last road trip, homering twice in his first three games and stealing a base to give a glimpse of the impact he could make on an offense struggling to find production outside of its top four hitters.
“He’s a good player,” said manager Alex Cora. “He had a great season a few years ago. Just the way he controls the at-bat, there’s no panic, the way he takes pitches. He can drive the ball the other way and you know what that means at home. He can shoot it the other way with power.”
On a team that prized versatility this offseason, Santana fits right in alongside Kiké Hernández and Marwin Gonzalez. He has appeared everywhere except pitcher and catcher, with his primary positions center field and shortstop.
The Red Sox have used him at first base and in center, and it’s easy to envision the switch hitter hopping around the outfield, where the Red Sox have searched for consistent production beyond Alex Verdugo.
“I’m ready for everything,” Santana said. “I played a couple positions back in Worcester a couple weeks ago, last week, so I’m ready.”
Santana doesn’t just provide positional flexibility. The switch hitter also helps balance a right-handed-heavy lineup that includes two lefties — Verdugo and Rafael Devers — as well as Gonzalez, a fellow switch hitter who is hitting only .188 from the left side.
Both of Santana’s homers came from that side vs. the Philadelphia Phillies. On the first, he cranked a hanging curveball from All-Star right-hander Aaron Nola. On the second, he smoked a 98 mph fastball low and in from Sam Coonrod.
“The at-bats, you can see quality at-bats, he controls the strike zone,” Cora said. “He said he was actually a little bit nervous before his first at-bat, during his first at-bat, and I said, ‘Well, you’re only human. That’s part of what we do and if you don’t feel nervous at this level, there’s something wrong with you. We all feel that way on a daily basis, so put a good swing on it.’
“A breaking ball stayed in the zone and that’s what he brings. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark, we’re very excited that he’s with us and I know he’s going to help us.”
The other area where Santana could make an underrated impact is on the bases. The Red Sox rank in the middle of the pack in the American League with 21 steals, but Santana has twice swiped 20 bases, including 21 during his breakout 2019.
“He’s a switch hitter who can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but I think the thing that he brings that we don’t have is speed,” Cora said. “We run the bases well, we pick and choose where we want to go, and we’ve been pretty effective, but he can run. I think that’s a dimension that will add something to the equation. Offensively we should be better. It creates more balance, it gives us more alternatives and we’re very happy he’s with us.”