As the Twins held off Detroit 4-3 on Sunday, Danny Santana — seemingly born to play shortstop — patrolled center field.
“He can really run, that’s why,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Santana, 23, is a natural fit at short, where his soft, quick hands and powerful arm are best displayed. Those quick hands also show up at the plate, where he zips his bat through the strike zone and already has eight hits in his first seven major league games.
“He’s got some of the fastest hands I’ve seen at this level,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. “He reminds me of a young Jose Reyes, and he’s been picking it, too.”
It’s been an impressive debut for Santana, who will share time with Eduardo Escobar at short, with an occasional appearance by Eduardo Nunez. Santana is 8-for-19 with three doubles and three RBI since being called up May 3. And the Twins are just discovering what they have in this young talent. With Pedro Florimon now at Class AAA Rochester trying to find his swing, Santana has a chance to prove he’s the shortstop of the future.
“I know I don’t have a lot of experience, but I feel comfortable out there,” said Santana, a native of the Dominican Republic. His English is in its early stages, but he tries to speak it in interviews so he can learn it more quickly.
His future is at short, but Gardenhire sees center field as a way to play him more often. Santana has played 23 games in center in the minors, including two in 2012 while at Class AA New Britain. With Aaron Hicks struggling to hit and Sam Fuld on the disabled list because of a concussion, Santana might be the best-equipped player the Twins have to play center.
On Sunday, he pinch hit for Hicks in the seventh inning and hit an RBI single to start the Twins’ comeback. He then replaced Hicks in center field and did not look in over his head in making three putouts.
“If Hicks continues to struggle, we might have to give him a break and have options,” Gardenhire said. “[Santana], we think, is going to be that guy. We’re going to start putting him out there and see what happens.”
Santana batted .297 at Class AA New Britain last season with 22 doubles, 10 triples and 30 stolen bases. He was batting .268 at Rochester with seven doubles, two triples and four stolen bases when he was called up.
Santana impressed Twins officials during spring training, but he also made more than his share of mistakes in the field. That’s an area of his game he must clean up.
Twice during the series last week in Cleveland, he took too much time fielding ground balls and watched runners beat his throws to first base. There were two more plays during the weekend series in Detroit that should have been outs.
On Friday, he dropped a throw from the outfield in the third inning as Rajai Davis slid into second that should have been an out. That’s been a problem with him before.
“We’ve stressed it with him for a long time,” Twins coach Paul Molitor said. “Catching the ball in traffic, making tags from the outfield. You’ll see him try to apply a tag too quickly.”
On Saturday, he could have ended the second inning by throwing to first base on a grounder hit by Torii Hunter. Instead, he tried to flip the ball to Dozier at second, who was a little late to the bag. That enabled Miguel Cabrera to come to the plate, and he made the Twins pay with a three-run homer.
That’s four plays in one road trip that cost the Twins outs and the pitcher extra pitches — sometimes when he was being too quick, sometimes when he wasn’t quick enough. For now, he’s learning these lessons in the major leagues. While his offensive potential is obvious, his defense needs to catch up. The Twins expect him to adjust as he gets used to the speed of the major league game.
“[Twins General Manager] Terry Ryan spoke very highly of this kid’s ability for a long time,” Molitor said, “and I have seen it in action. We’ve got a little glimpse in the first week of the things he can do.”