Heading into Spring Training this season, Danny Santana is almost certainly going to be moved back into the infield. Despite playing center field for much of the season last year, he still remains an ideal fit in the infield. Although he appears to be the Opening Day shortstop, it also seems that he may have more competition than we were initially led to believe.
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Yesterday on the Twins official website, Rhett Bollinger wrote that Paul Molitor has every intention of allowing both Santana and Eduardo Escobar to compete for the starting shortstop role. While competition is something that is always taking place, as you always want to field the best roster possible, it would seem to be concerning if Escobar does in fact beat out Santana for the starting role.
Last season, Danny Santana slashed an impressive .319/.353/.472 for the Twins, and was the club’s lone hitter with an average north of .300. Looking deeper into his numbers however, it would appear certain that level of production is something that is unsustainable. In 2014, Santana had a .405 batting average on balls in play. With a mark that high, it is almost certain that his average will regress significantly in 2015. A .297 and .286 hitter in Double-A and High-A respectively, last season would appear to be somewhat of an outlier.
Even if Santana regresses to a certain extent at the plate, he should still be considered the odds on favorite at short. From a defensive standpoint, shortstop is a role that he progressed through the system playing, and is his natural role. In 2014, Santana player 34 games at shortstop for the Twins. He made two errors in 120 chances, but was worth negative six runs in total zone fielding runs above average. At 23, and needing consistent time at short to settle in, the Twins should provide Danny Santana with that to start 2015.
As for his competition, Eduardo Escobar put himself into the conversation with a strong 2014. Although his production at the plate tailed some as the season went on, Escobar hit a respectable .275/.315/.406. The Twins return for Francisco Liriano was also responsible for six home runs, just one less than Santana. Both players struck out over 90 times, while drawing right around 20 walks.
In the field, Escobar actually had a better season than his counterpart. In 98 games at shortstop, Escobar had 359 chances and made only five errors. He was also responsible for a plus one total zone field runs above average. According to FanGraphs revised zone rating, Escobar got to more balls in his zone (.810) than Santana (.737). Looking at both players Ultimate Zone Rating, Escobar once again showed more range accounting for a positive 2.1 rating in comparison to Santana’s -0.9.
It remains to be seen how much stock new manager Paul Molitor places on advanced statistics, and how much of a competition the starting shortstop role really becomes. With the numbers to our advantage, it does appear that while Danny Santana may be the more exciting name, Eduardo Escobar provides a very similar skillset. The discrepancies between the two players are not that far apart, and Escobar appears to offer more in the field.
While I still believe Danny Santana is the Twins starting shortstop on Opening Day, his hold on the position may not be as tight as many believe.