Rangers Prospect #41: Cristian Santana

Cristian Santana is coming off a strange 2008 season in which he battled injuries, switched positions, and struggled offensively. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the 19-year-old slugger with a feature article and an in-depth scouting report.

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

One of the most sought after international free agents to be inked by the Rangers in recent years, Cristian Santana signed for a $350,000 bonus in July 2005.

Although a handful of teams liked Santana as a centerfielder because of his athleticism and arm strength, the Rangers chose to put him behind the plate. Santana signed 10 months after highly touted backstop Manny Pina, and due to their strong arms, both prospects were immediately subject to Pudge Rodriguez comparisons.

While Pina played the 2005 season with the rookie-level AZL Rangers, Santana spent the summer working out at the club's new Dominican complex. Santana set his sights on making a 2006 debut in the U.S., but a serious injury got in the way.

Before he'd even played in a professional game, Santana was forced to undergo labrum surgery on his right shoulder, costing him the entire 2006 campaign. Although Santana returned to action the following year – playing with the AZL Rangers – he was limited to 33 games because of the ailment.

Santana did excel when he was on the field in 2007, batting .302 with 13 extra-base hits in just 96 at-bats for the rookie club. The performance was good enough to earn a late-season promotion to short-season Spokane, where he notched eight hits in 25 at-bats [.320].

Coming off an excellent debut season, the Rangers felt Santana was mature enough to handle a full-season league with just 33 games of experience. The Dominican broke camp with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings in 2008, and he went on to have an up-and-down year.

Santana battled a nagging hamstring injury in addition to his persistent shoulder troubles throughout the season's first half. After a fairly promising start, Santana went into a tailspin in May, when he went 5-for-40 with 22 strikeouts.

When the dust had settled, Santana was batting .232 with 17 doubles, 11 home runs, and 42 RBIs. But perhaps the most glaring statistic was his 121 strikeouts in 328 at-bats. The slugger will look to improve on those numbers when he presumably repeats Low-A in 2009.

Also See: Minor League Mailbag (June 17, 2008)

Batting and Power: Santana has what the scouts call ‘light-tower power.' Though his figure isn't particularly imposing, the slugger's pop ranks among the system's best when he squares up on balls – which wasn't all that often in 2008. Santana's hit tool is extremely raw and he still has a ways to go before his staggering power consistently shows up in game situations. His well-below-average pitch recognition helped lead to 121 strikeouts against just 19 walks in 328 at-bats last season. Santana's nagging injuries didn't help much either, especially when he fanned 54 times in 115 first-half at-bats. Despite the plentiful whiffs and the low batting average, Santana's power potential was evident last summer. The 19-year-old entered last season with just 33 games of professional experience, so last season's struggles shouldn't come as much of a shock.

Base Running and Speed: Santana's speed is about average, and maybe a tick above. He is very athletic and has excellent foot speed for a catcher, but he isn't a catcher – for the time being, at least. Santana must improve his baserunning skills and instincts, such as reading balls in the dirt or taking extra bases.

Defense: A handful of teams initially wanted to sign Santana as an outfielder, but the Rangers elected to put him behind the plate. He struggled defensively coming off labrum surgery in 2007, as he threw out just 7-of-50 [14 percent] attempted base stealers between Arizona and Spokane. He also had a league-worst 12 passed balls in the rookie-level Arizona League.

The Rangers moved Santana into the outfield for the 2008 campaign. Though he spent parts of just two games behind the plate last summer, the club has hinted that he may not be done catching. Santana played 50 games in the outfield [mostly left field] in '08 and – while he was predictably rough around the edges – he flashed decent tools. Santana moved around well enough to cover average ground in left and he had above-average arm strength with good accuracy, despite his shoulder issues.

Projection: At this point, it looks like Santana's future relies on two things – his health and his ability to develop as a hitter. Santana's shoulder has already limited him in every season since signing with the Rangers, and it has his future behind the plate in doubt. Offensively, the Dominican Republic native has ideal power for a corner outfield spot, and that's where he may stay in the long run. He has loads of offensive potential, but his plate discipline must improve by leaps and bounds before he can produce in game situations. If his pitch selection improves, he could become an All-Star caliber player. If it doesn't, he may not reach minors' upper levels.

2009 Outlook: After missing significant chunks of the last two seasons – not to mention the entire 2006 campaign – Santana enters 2009 looking to be fully healthy for the first time in his career. With just 449 professional at-bats under his belt, it seems to be a certainty that Santana will return to Low-A this season. The raw slugger could benefit by repeating the level, and while he probably won't have a breakout year, it's fair to expect slightly improved numbers across the board. Santana will probably play an outfield/designated hitter role again, but he could see a little more time at catcher if the Rangers believe he has a future behind the plate.

ETA: 2013.

Year Team AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
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
2008 Clinton (A) .232 328 17 11 42 36 4 19 121 .297 .396

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