I have a well-documented obsession with Carlos Santana. My infatuation started shortly after I learned he was one of the prospects traded to the Indians for Casey Blake in 2008. This is one of the benefits of being an Indians fan and living in northeast Ohio – most of their minor league teams are in the area as well. Unfortunately, Santana initially reported to the one team that’s not in Ohio; the Kinston Indians, their high-level Class A team in North Carolina. In 105 at-bats in Kinston, he hit .352 with six home runs and 19 RBIs. He was in Class AA Akron by the end of the season for just a couple of games, and I finally got the opportunity to see him play in person.
Santana spent a full season at Akron in 2009, where he hit .290 with 23 home runs and a .943 OPS. This was the same season that the Indians traded my favorite player, Victor Martinez, to the Boston Red Sox. After he departed, I really latched onto Santana. He was a catcher, he wore number 41, I loved watching him hit – it seemed like an easy decision. I watched Santana play during spring training in 2010, and secretly hoped that he’d break camp with the Major League club and start the season in Cleveland. Even though he reported to Class AAA Columbus, he was called to the Majors on June 11. If that date sounds familiar, it’s because another highly-touted rookie was expected at Progressive Field just two days later – Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg made his Major League debut with the Washington Nationals on June 8 against the Pittsburgh Pirates and his appearance on June 13 in Cleveland marked his second start of the year. I remember that I planned to attend the Saturday and Sunday games of the Nationals series in Cleveland. I arrived early to Progressive Field on Saturday, hoping to purchase a Carlos Santana shirt; they did not have any yet. When I checked back on Sunday, they still did not have any – but they had dozens of Washington Nationals/Stephen Strasburg shirts for sale. I was a bit dejected. The Indians had no memorabilia to represent their highly touted prospect the weekend he made his Major League debut, but they had memorabilia for their opponent’s highly touted prospect that was called up a week before. Ironically, neither of these prospects would have much luck during the 2010 season. Santana injured his knee in a collision with Ryan Kalish from the Boston Red Sox on August 2 and was done for the year. By the end of the month, the Nationals would shut Strasburg down with a tear in his elbow.
Despite the disappointing lack of Santana at the end of 2010, I was optimistic about his performance in 2011. If he was healthy again, and batting cleanup in a lineup that included a healthy Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Grady Sizemore, who knows what he could accomplish. Unfortunately, Santana has been off to a rough start thus far in 2011. Despite his current .195 batting average, the 2011 Indians still managed to set a record for April victories.
In the first inning of last night’s game against the Tigers, Santana grounded into an inning-ending double play after Asdrubal Cabrera and Choo both walked. It was an extremely frustrating moment, and it would be the sixth inning before the Indians even got another runner to second base. After Santana struck out in the fourth inning, I didn’t expect much from him before the end of the game. Even though he managed to walk in the sixth as the Indians jumped on the board with two runs, he again grounded out in the eighth inning. I didn’t have much hope for success when he came to the plate with the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and one out. “Just please don’t ground into another double play,” I thought. The other thought that went through my mind – “Just strike out and give Shelley Duncan a chance to win it.” Instead, Santana launched a grand slam over the right field wall, and I immediately felt guilty for doubting him. This was a no-doubt kind of home run too; as soon as it left his bat I leapt from my couch and started to scream. (My terrified dog did not seem to appreciate my jubilation.) It marked the eleventh straight home win for the Indians, and was an exciting and unexpected end to an excellent game.
Even though Santana still has a .195 average, he gave fans a glimpse of what is possible once he’s able to break out of this slump. I still can’t believe the Dodgers surrendered this player for a half-season of Casey Blake. Even though Blake is still with the Dodgers (although on the DL with a staph infection) I can’t help but wonder how much they regret this trade, or at least how much they’ll regret it in the future.