GOODYEAR, Ariz.: The Carlos Santana experiment at third base begins in earnest today.
Santana, who split time between catching, designated hitter and first base last season, will shed his catching gear for the time being this spring.
For now, Santana will work exclusively with the infielders after spending the past couple days with the team’s catchers.
“He’s been told that he has to earn the playing time at third,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “If he’s our best third baseman, we’ll revisit this as we go.”
After playing third base in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Santana, 27, is ready to give the position change his best shot.
“I feel good, looking forward to helping my team anyway I can,” Santana said. “Tito said if I play well, maybe. That’s all I can ask. Wherever he puts me in to play, I’ll do it.”
When Yan Gomes usurped Santana as the Indians’ everyday catcher in the second half of last season, Francona would occasionally put Santana at first base to spell Nick Swisher, but mostly he was limited to designated-hitter duty.
Before Santana left the states after the end of last season, he met with Francona and General Manager Chris Antonetti and suggested he try third base, not wanting to become a full-time DH at such a young age.
Santana, who played third base in the low minors while coming up in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system, said it took him only “four or five games” in winter ball before he felt comfortable at the hot corner again.
“Everybody doesn’t know third base is my natural position,” said Santana, who was traded to the Indians in the 2008 deal that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers. “It didn’t take long to remember how it felt playing there.”
Santana was so eager to get going this spring, he was one of the first players to arrive in Goodyear. Since he’s been here, every morning at about 8:20 a.m., before suiting up to help catch bullpen sessions, he trots out to the field with an instructor to take grounders at third base.
“I think this is going to work out,” Santana said when asked if he felt capable of playing third base in the majors right now. “I’ve been preparing. I’m good. I don’t feel I need to open their eyes because I’m confident in my ability to play third base.”
Moving Santana from behind the plate could increase his offensive production as well, as Francona plans to hit him consistently in the fourth spot in the lineup.
“The more versatility Carlos has, the better team we are,” said Francona, who struggled to find an everyday cleanup hitter after he moved a struggling Swisher from fourth to second in the order. “Carlos is a guy that hits right in the middle of our order. If he moves around, or he can play third, or he can catch, that’s a skill-set that not one person in the league has. And the fact that he’s our cleanup hitter, that makes it an unbelievable skill-set.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.