This Santana Can Play, Too

His name is the same as a famous musician but he doesn't do his strumming with a guitar. Rather, a bat is his instrument of choice and the "thwack" of wood meeting a ball solidly is a sweet sound to the Dodgers.

Carlos Santana is currently playing third base for Vero Beach although that's a situation that is expected to be only temporary. He's up there as a result of his splendid hitting in the extended camp, filling a hole on the roster created when Cory Dunlap was placed on the disabled list.

When Dunlap returns- and that shouldn't be too long- they'll probably send Santana back across Dodgertown where the extended staff will welcome his return. After all, this guy was hitting over .600 when summoned to Holman Stadium.

That's right-.600, which illustrates the extraordinary success he's been having this spring. Sure, the games don't count officially nor will you find his name on any list of the better Dodger prospects. That could well change soon for his abilities have impressed all who've seen him.

"He could be a special player," says Vero manager Luis Salazar. The addition of Carlos to his roster may be rather brief but Luis knows his subject for he managed him last year in the Gulf Coast League.

That was the rookie season for the 5-11, 170-pound switch-hitter from the Dominican Republic. Carlos had signed last August but had shown to such advantage in Campo Las Palmas over the winter that it was decided he could forgo the usual indoctrination in the Dominican Summer League to debut in the USA.

He didn't disappoint, swinging a bat quite well to wind up at a very respectable .295 with one homer. But that, many feel, was only a hint of what's to come.

Last season Salazar found himself blessed with three third basemen, all showing offensive prowess. So, while Josh Bell played third, Eduardo Perez played a lot of first while Santana played just about everywhere- some first, some outfield, some second. Since he has good hand-eye actions and a strong arm, they decided to see if he could be a catcher .

A broken finger ended that experiment and Carlos' season. Since then, he's been back at third where he's been sparkling in the field as well as at the plate. And that puts that same trio again in the same camp since Perez was sent back from Columbus. Or it will, presuming Santana is returned from his stay at Vero.

Since there are two squads in the extended camp, playing time is no problem. They'll have to sort out who goes where in early June when they either fly off to Ogden or remain in Dodgertown for the Gulf Coast action.

But wherever Carlos winds up, the betting is his bat will be smoking. He's got a short, compact stroke that has shown good power this spring as well as that amazing consistency. Even his outs have been ripped.

For the record, he turned 20 a month ago, a young guy with a seeming bright future in whatever town and whatever position he finally occupies. They can play Santana songs whenever he strides to the plate. He'll provide some accompanying harmony.