We often discuss the steps that need to be taken in a rebuilding process. As we all know from experience, there’s a number of them. It occurs immediately within the draft. Teams that find success from directly within the organization climb to the top that much faster. Then, if contention isn’t on the horizon, the stocks of players at the MLB level rise and, if the situation allows, they’re dealt in order to boost the talent within a farm system. Those are just some of the countless ingredients necessary for success to be found — many more exist. But the other crucial aspect is something I’ve been preaching as the No. 1 goal for this team since going into Opening Day of last season — development.
Development can occur in a number of ways, some of which can be found beyond the stat sheet. It can show in a player’s approach at the plate. It resonates in how confident they appear when they’re out on the field. The thing I love about watching players expand their skill set is that it can be shown in such short time spans. For example, adjustment at the plate after a rough slump can be enough to show that progress is being made (see Keon Broxton and Orlando Arcia). Another player on the Brewers that this seems to be the case for is Domingo Santana.
Remember how the season started for Domingo? Early on, the Brewers lacked a lead-off man and Craig Counsell decided to test the waters by appointing Santana to fill in that role. Despite the skepticism of being labeled more of a traditional power hitter, Santana held his own and found productivity from the No. 1 spot in the order, posting a respectable .352 OBP. Unfortunately, his contributions were cut short early on when he was placed on the DL on May 19 due to a right shoulder strain. He would be sidelined until June 3, but again, it wasn’t long before another injury came around, as right elbow soreness put him back on the DL just five days later.
The right elbow soreness was the main blow to Santana’s playing time in 2016. A nuisance that originally anticipated to be a 15 day ordeal turned out to be a two-month process, keeping him off the field until August 19.
This stint was where we were teased with the possibilities of what a healthy Domingo Santana could do. From August 19 through the end of the season, there’s some evidence that prove that development was achieved, even with the multiple roadblocks that were thrown in front of him. During that timeframe, Santana posted a slash of .280/.344/.508, all of which are satisfying numbers for a player who dealt with the injuries he did. The slugging serves as the eye-popper of the three. From Opening Day until June 8, Santana’s SLG fluctuated around the .391 mark. Once he returned fully healthy in mid-August, that number rose over 100 points.
The slugging is evident in multiple ways. First, one can’t help but look at the dingers. Remember when Santana made his first string of appearances with the Brewers in 2015 and it seemed as if he put one over the fence every other at-bat? He showed shades of that in the final stretch last year by playing long ball seven times.
Many of those home runs left the park with an insane velocity — as did nearly every other ball that made contact with Santana’s bat. Here’s a chart that illustrates the coverage and consistency his bat yielded in regards to exit velocity:
Comparing the same window of comparison, take a look at these heat maps:
Now compared with when he returned from the DL in August:
Notice the added red mixed in over the low-to-mid part of the strike zone. This is the type of development that can be discovered in short areas of data that I was discussing earlier. It presents the adjustments he made that switched a .234 batting average to .280 by the end of the season.
Despite all of the good news I’m preaching about Santana, I’d be too biased to omit any of the negative aspects of his game from the article. The main gripe comes in regards to his BB/K ratio. In his 281 plate appearances last season, Santana walked at a clip of 11.4 percent, which, considering his free-swinging mentality, can be considered a victory. However, tangled in with that percentage is his strikeout rate, which registered at a whopping 32.4 percent. If he can halve that percentage for 2017, it ought to be appreciated highly by Brewers fans.
Now, moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see what the Brewers do in regards to Santana. He’s not eligible for arbitration for two more years and won’t become a free agent until the 2022 season. That being said, it provides Milwaukee with some options. We all know how littered the farm system is with outfield prospects. Lewis Brinson is set to be called up this season and, if the numbers justify it, it’s not necessarily out of the realm to see Brett Phillips receive a September call-up.
Obviously it’s too early to tell/discuss much about now, but if Santana does come into 2017 and pick up where he left off in regards to his productivity, the Brewers might have the ability to trade him to boost their prospect collection even more. But right now, you can probably anticipate the opposite as the expectation. The right field position is Santana’s for the time being and if he does contribute heavily, who knows, he might have a spot on this team when they begin to make their playoff run.