Since the Brewers acquired Domingo Santana as a part of the Carlos Gomez–Mike Fiers trade, it has been difficult to ignore the outfielder’s exceptional AAA Pacific Coast League statistics. Of course, the question was always going to be Santana’s application of his skills at the big league level, which is what arguably made him the most contentious / divisive prospect (in terms of scouting assessments) that the Brewers received in the trade. Santana has showcased an exceptional approach since Milwaukee recalled him in Washington, and the youngster is showcasing both plate discipline and strike zone contact (which is ultimately driving his extra-base heavy results). I am certain that Santana won’t always have a 100% hit-to-extra-base-hit ratio, but there are trends behind these results that he can use to develop at the MLB level.
Prior to taking a look at Santana’s strike zone execution, it is worth noting his success with contact and swings. According to TexasLeaguers, the righty bat swung 30 times between August 21 and August 25. Five “whiffs” resulted from those swings, as well as 14 fouls. The fouls are crucial:
- Santana fouled four pitches prior to his Brewers debut homer in Washington.
- One foul preceded his pinch hit double in Washington.
- Last night, another foul preceded Santana’s homer in Cleveland.
For what it’s worth, these fouls are allowing Santana to extend plate appearances. Even if a swing might arguably be a mistake — such as his first foul on a low off-speed pitch before his homer in Washington — Santana is also showing a penchant to adjust within a plate appearance. For example, after he fouled away a low off-speed pitch, he laid off another off-speed pitch in the same location, helping him work into a more favorable count. Given that extensive analysis has suggested that contact may be one of Santana’s struggles, seeing these foul balls pile up shows that the prospect is working through plate appearances, seeing pitches, making contact, and giving himself a chance to produce a successful plate appearance (such as the two homers and double listed above, which account for nearly half his foul swings since Milwaukee recalled him).
Strike Zone Discipline & Slugging
Watching MLB GameDay during the radio broadcasts has been a treat while Santana is batting. His walk rate from AA onward (2013-present) has consistently fallen in a solid-to-excellent range, suggesting that plate discipline is one of the strengths that will help the outfielder stick in an MLB role. Thus far, Santana has not disappointed in Brewers road gray: according to ESPN TruMedia, Santana is quite selective with his strike zone.
This zone is especially important because pitchers are largely working the slugger away:
Perhaps the best sign of Santana’s swings is that when he is connecting on pitches in certain strike zone areas, he is absolutely punishing pitchers. Specifically, all 10 of his total bases occur on pitches in two particular areas, including one in which Santana has only seen two pitches (low-inside-strike zone area). The other six total bases came from pitches straight down Wisconsin Avenue:
This is one specific benefit of laying off those away-pitches (for the most part): Santana is arguably isolating specific pitch areas, or maximizing his swing on specific areas. It will be interesting to see if he continues to lay off those low, away pitches, just how pitchers will approach him then. During his brief time with the Astros, Santana also slugged well on low-middle strike zone area pitches, which is a trend that he has yet to replicate in Milwaukee (despite swinging on three of four offerings in that area).
One could argue that this strike zone area presents a thin line between pitchers succeeding and Santana slugging: if Santana consistently swings at these low area pitches, there is a chance that pitchers work their pitches in such a way to slowly expand that zone lower and lower. However, even if one might expect this, Santana’s overall strike zone discipline suggests that the slugger may be able to differentiate between low pitches that are not strikes, and low pitches that he can drive. By consistently laying off those pitches away, on the outer-areas and edges of the strike zone, Santana could also eventually force pitchers into scenarios where they need to venture into tougher areas of the strike zone. Adding “plate discipline” and “foul balls” to his arsenal arguably gives Domingo Santana two tools to maximize his chance to slug the ball around (and out of) the ballpark, resulting in an efficient approach (in terms of maximizing strike zone swings).