Rangers Prospect #18: Cristian Santana

The Rangers have an impressive stockpile of catching prospects, but Cristian Santana could turn out to be the best of them. Lone Star Dugout has an in-depth scouting report on the 18-year-old prospect.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Cristian Santana
Position: Catcher
DOB: June 18, 1989
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 175
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Cristian Santana isn't your average catcher. Part of what sets Santana apart from his backstop counterparts is his outstanding offensive potential. With an advanced approach at the plate and above-average raw power, Santana is a rare commodity for his position.

But that isn't the only thing that makes Santana unique. When the Rangers pursued the then 16-year-old in his native Dominican Republic, many teams viewed him as a centerfield prospect due to his athleticism and strong arm. It goes without saying that the full package – approach, power, athleticism, and arm strength – is incredibly rare for a catcher. But Santana has it, and that's what makes him one of the system's most promising prospects.

The Rangers signed the international free agent to a reported $350,000 bonus in July of 2005. Santana finished the season by working out with the Rangers organization, but he wasn't set to make his official debut until 2006.

That 2006 debut never came, as Santana saw his season come to an end before it even began. The catcher underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder during spring training, knocking him out for the entire year.

Santana eventually made his debut last summer with the rookie-level AZL Rangers, but he still wasn't fully healthy. The youngster missed some time because of a rotator cuff problem, which eventually healed after some rest.

After posting an impressive .302/.427/.531 [AVG/OBP/SLG] line with the Little Rangers, Santana earned a promotion to short-season Spokane in his first pro season. Despite being up to three and four years younger than some of his competition, Santana more than held his own, batting .320 with two doubles and a home run in 25 at-bats.

The 18-year-old participated in fall instructional league after the 2007 regular season, but he was slowed by another injury. Santana experienced more swelling around his labrum, relegating him to DH duties during the month-long league.

Also See: Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Mike Boulanger (September 17, 2007)
Sizing up the catching prospects (October 3, 2007)
Santana nursing shoulder injury (November 1, 2007)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Mike Boulanger (November 6, 2007)

Batting and Power: With three catchers in the system's top 18 prospects, the Rangers have a amassed an impressive group of young backstops. And even though all three project to be above-average hitters for the position, Santana has the highest ceiling at the plate. Santana was remarkable at the plate last summer, as his bat helped him reach short-season Spokane in his first professional season. He batted .306 with nine doubles, three triples, and four home runs in 121 at-bats between the two short-season levels. Santana has an advanced approach for his age and he could feasibly develop into a .280-.290 hitter in the Majors. But the most impressive aspect of Santana's game is his raw power. Santana's power potential is what separates him from the system's other two top catching prospects, Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez.

Base Running and Speed: In general baseball terms, Santana would be a solid-average runner. In catcher terms, Santana is an outstanding runner. The fact that he was looked at by some teams as a centerfield prospect is a testament to his speed. Although Santana is likely to lose some foot speed as he develops physically, he is probably always going to be an outstanding runner for a backstop.

Defense: Santana has the ability to be a strong defensive catcher, but he is raw. He combined to throw out just 7-of-50 [14 percent] base stealers between Arizona and Spokane last season. Santana also allowed a league-worst 12 passed balls in just 24 AZL games. The backstop does have an above-average arm, but being just one year removed from shoulder surgery, Santana feels he was lacking strength last summer. Santana had another shoulder issue flare up at instructs, but once he gets fully healthy, the arm strength should return back to 100 percent. Despite his ugly numbers last year, there is still plenty of time for the 18-year-old to develop defensively.

Projection: Even if Santana never quite develops defensively, his bat could carry him to the Majors. If a player can hit consistently at the Major League level, teams will generally find a position for him. Without even a full season under his belt, it is difficult to project just how good of a hitter Santana will become, but he does have the potential to hit .280-.290 with 20-plus home runs down the line. Whether or not he ever reaches that level – and does it as a catcher – obviously still remains to be seen.

2008 Outlook: As the end of spring training nears, we are beginning to learn where most prospects will begin their 2008 season. But we have still yet to hear anything about Santana. There are two possible destinations for Santana and both are sensible. Santana has appeared in just 33 professional games, so he could work out in extended spring training before joining Spokane when their season opens in mid-June. He could also open the season with the full-season Single-A Clinton LumberKings. Last year's Clinton catcher, Manny Pina, has spent much of the spring working with the High-A Bakersfield club. If Pina does make the jump to Bakersfield, expect Santana to start the season in Clinton.

ETA: 2012.

2007 AZL Rangers (RK) .302 96 7 3 15 20 3 12 27 .427 .531
Spokane (SSA) .320 25 2 1 4 1 0 0 6 .346 .520

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