Danny Santana made his eighth start and third in a row in center field for the Twins on Wednesday night at Target Field. This has been framed by media types and the sporting public as a desperate act for a team caught with no reasonable alternatives to the hapless hitter, Aaron Hicks.
The Twins have been questioned by many (present company included) for giving away potential stopgaps, Darin Mastroianni and Alex Presley, because of the ridiculous flirtation to have Jason Bartlett as a utility player.
That’s probably true, but so is this: Any sane follower of the Twins would rather see Santana getting a shot to be part of this lineup over Mastroianni, Presley or Sam Fuld (still out with a concussion).
Santana is a 23-year-old switch-hitter and as fast as any Twins player since Carlos Gomez departed five years ago. Ben Revere? I’d call it a dead heat, tops, for Revere.
There’s a strong chance that Santana remains the Twins’ future shortstop. For now, Eduardo Escobar has held that down in surprisingly successful fashion, and manager Ron Gardenhire has decided to go with Santana’s combination of unfamiliarity and talent in center.
Santana had a rough time in San Francisco late last month when he was cautious on a couple of fly balls into short center. On Monday in Milwaukee, he made a senseless throw into no man’s land and turned a 1-0 hole into a 2-0 hole for Twins starter Kyle Gibson.
The deal is, with his speed and his arm, Santana is more than equipped to be a center fielder. He played there only occasionally in the minors, and so what? It’s an easier position to play that shortstop.
There’s a difference between throwing Bartlett, a 34-year-old coming off a year of not playing, into left field, and using a young player with tremendous skills in center field.
Old-time Twins fans can see similarity between Santana’s presence in center field and what took place in 1966 with a player named Cesar Tovar. The Twins had traded lefthanded pitcher Gerry Arrigo to Cincinnati for Tovar in December 1964.
Tovar became a regular in 1966. A year later, he played in 164 games (two ties included), with 60 starts in center field, 56 at third base, 31 at second base, six in left field, five at shortstop and one in right field.
The moral of this tale is that if you have speed, talent and are a right-handed thrower, you can play most anywhere. This isn’t to suggest the Twins will have Santana play all nine positions, as Tovar did as a ticket-selling gimmick on Sept. 22, 1968, but he almost certainly can get by in center field.
Gardenhire’s recent lineups have had Santana batting first. If the rookie can pull it off, that allows Brian Dozier to move to a better spot for him, second, and will make for a better-looking lineup card.
It was embarrassing for all a week ago, when it was announced that Hicks had decided to give into the statistics and abandon switch-hitting. To have a 24-year-old trying to learn on the fly to bat right-handed against big-league righthanders brought on some much-deserved ridicule.
Fuld was out and the Twins’ view at the time was that they had no option to Hicks in center field. After a futile game for Hicks in San Francisco, Gardenhire went with Santana in center. That Sunday went poorly for Santana and the Twins, but Gardenhire has now gone back to him with better results.
Tom Kelly, the former manager, was working for FSN on Wednesday. Asked about Santana in center, Kelly said:
“As long as he’s in there somewhere. I think he’s an exciting player. If he can make the pitchers keep the ball down, he’s going to do OK. It looks like he can handle those pitches.’’
And playing center? “There are going to be some mistakes, like with any young player at any position,’’ Kelly said. “Hopefully, we can get him back in there at shortstop in time, but as I said: As long as Santana’s in there somewhere, it can be a good thing for the Twins.’’