Daniel Santin: Backstop of the Future?

When your dad is one of the top eyes for talent in all of major league baseball, winters spent lounging and relaxing are closer to fantasy-land than any sort of reality. As the son of such a baseball man, in the process of working your way through the minor leagues, you know you'll never be far from the game.

If you are Mariners prospect Daniel Santin, this is the life you live.

An emerging left-handed hitting catcher in the Mariners farm system, Santin raked his way to a .325 average in the Arizona Rookie League as a first-year pro last season. His father, Rudy Santin, is a scout for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and one of the best in the business, having signed 16 current big-leaguers.

No pressure, right son?

Well, the younger Santin returned home to Miami, Florida after the 2004 season ended in September and took only a short break before returning to work. His job? A baseball instructor at a place called Hardball Baseball, where the elder Santin also worked during the winter months.

"It has indoor batting cages and indoor fields," said Santin. "People come and pay by the hour for personal instruction and get hitting and fielding instructions."

So much for getting away from the game for a while; baseball has been on Santin's mind on a daily basis this winter. Now that the 19-year-old catcher is down in Peoria, Ariz., having reported a month early for spring training, he anxiously sits at the doorstep of his second pro season.

"I'm feeling really good about the coming season," he said. "I've worked hard and am in good shape."

As the offspring of someone with such an advanced baseball mind, Santin credits much of his success from 2004 to the skills that his father taught him growing up, especially his work in the batter's box.

"The most important thing is my ability to lay off bad pitching and my ability to be selective and patient," said Santin, who took a job working at L.A. Fitness down in Arizona as he prepares for the start of spring training. "My dad always told me you're only as good as the pitch you hit.

"It's all about getting a good pitch to hit and getting a good count. You can hit balls out of the park in BP all day, but if you are swinging at curveballs in the dirt or fastballs over your head you are not going to be too successful."

With the Rookie League Peoria Mariners last season, these things came relatively easy for the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder. He showed the ability to lay off bad pitches, work the count in his favor, and put the ball in play on a regular basis.

That won't be as easy to do as he moves up through the system, as pitchers in the upper levels possess advanced command and improved velocity. Santin, a straight-shooter without a trace of doubt in his voice, is aware of that, and understands that he still has a ways to go in proving himself both at the plate as well as behind it.

Making strides both offensively and defensively is his primary focus heading into the 2005 season. Santin prefers to pay attention to those details rather than other factors that hold very little relevance to his development.

"I think everybody worries about the wrong things," said Santin, a 28th round pick by Seattle in 2003. "They worry about where they are going to play. I'm not worried about where, I'm worried about how I'm going to play. Whether I'm at Everett or Wisconsin or Inland Empire, I need to prove I can play just like anyone else."

"Maybe I'll start off in Everett and go to Wisconsin," he added.

Wherever he ends up, Santin would like to get another chance to prove himself as a catcher. With his combination of height and athleticism, the Mariners have already approached him about possibly moving to first base, a position Santin played as a senior in high school after a labrum surgery hindered his ability to throw.

"They brought it up to me," said Santin, sounding like he hoped it wouldn't come to a position move this early in his pro career. "I've been taking some ground balls here and there. But I've been more behind the plate than at first base."

Catching is clearly his love, and it doesn't take a genius to figure that out. Santin has a lot of pride when it comes to being a backstop, and feels he can become a darn good one in time. While at Peoria last summer, new Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager Scott Steinmann, gave the young catcher personal instruction that Santin insists "made a big difference."

"I want to catch. It's just my thing," he said. "I call great games. I love working with the pitchers. I threw out 28 percent of base runners last year and I'm going to work really, really hard behind the plate this spring."

Improvements still need to be made, however. Santin says he needs to become more flexible and make some strides with his footwork as well.

"There's a lot more to catching than throwing to second base," he said. "I've got to work on those things, and if worse comes to worse then I've got to move to first base."

Whether it be behind the dish or at the first base bag, Santin will be one to watch in the M's farm system in 2005.

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