GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Carlos Santana’s transition to third base is being put on hold for a few days to start spring training.
Santana, a catcher who spent the winter playing third base in the Dominican Winter League, met with Indians manager Terry Francona to formulate a plan for camp. Francona said he expects Santana to catch the first few days before joining the team’s third-base mix.
“This will work itself out,” said Francona, who so far has only seen video of Santana playing third base. “When we leave here, we’re going to have the best team we can field.”
Even if Santana doesn’t completely wrest third base away from former first-round pick Lonnie Chisenhall (29th overall in 2008), the fact that he can play third in addition to designated hitter remains a plus.
“The more versatility Carlos has, the better team we are,” Francona said. “The guy hits right in the middle of our order and he moves around. He can play third, he can catch. That’s a skill set that not one person in the league has. The fact that he’s our cleanup hitter, makes that an unbelievable skill set.”
The emergence of Brazilian catcher Yan Gomes is what prompted Santana’s experiment. Gomes became the Indians’ everyday catcher the last two months of last season.
For the first time in his career, Gomes opens spring training as a regular.
“He’s never come into any season in his career where he’s been the everyday catcher,” Francona said. “So there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve there as far as his body getting beat up and things like that.
“But it’s an exciting time for Gomer. From last year’s [spring training] meeting to this year’s meeting is unbelievable. Last year at this time last year, we’re like, ‘do you go to the WBC or not? Are you a catcher or a third baseman?’ Now all of a sudden, we view him as one of the better catchers in the league.”
The Indians signed right-handed pitcher Kyle Davies to a minor-league contract Wednesday. Because the deal does not include an invitation to big-league camp, Davies is expected to report to Goodyear when minor-league camp opens Feb. 25. Davies has pitched in the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals and has a 43-65 record. He missed the 2012 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, then spent last year rehabbing in the minors in the Minnesota Twins’ farm system.
“The hope is, at the end of spring, we have a lot of tough decisions,” Francona said of the Indians’ glut of relievers. “That means guys did really well and that wouldn’t surprise me. We have some quality that I think is kind of flying under the radar. A couple guys will emerge and kind of light it up. But I wouldn’t be shocked if we have some really tough decisions.”
Right-hander Shaun Marcum has his sights set on making the roster as the Indians’ fifth starter. But he is behind his competition because he is recovering from surgery in July for thoracic outlet syndrome (according to the National Library of Medicine is a “rare condition that involves pain in the neck and shoulder, numbness and tingling of the fingers, and a weak grip”).
“He’s slightly behind the other guys,” Francona said. “Not as far as competition, but as far as readiness. We tried to drive home the fact that as hard as it is, April 1 isn’t the finishing line … You’ve got to keep the big picture [in mind].”
Although Marcum, 32, has been cleared to throw from the mound, he’s not ready to face live competition just yet.
“Getting in a game will probably be a week to 10 days behind everyone else,” Francona said. “We want a situation where, regardless of what date it is when he pitches, [he] can show what he can do. When you set artificial time tables, you kind of set yourself up to put guys in bad spots. They all push, so we need to be responsible.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com.