With the first spring training workouts now just days away, it appears that Domingo Santana finally has a camp to report to. According to Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com, the Indians have reportedly come to an agreement with the free agent outfielder on a one-year deal. Should the parties finalize the deal, Cleveland should prove to be a good landing spot for Santana, as he would seem to have a good chance of winning an everyday role in one of the outfield corners.
So far, Santana has not caused much of a stir in early drafts. In NFBC leagues, he has a 350 ADP that puts him in 89th place among outfielders. That makes him marginal at best in 15-team mixed leagues, while Austin Riley, Austin Hays and Niko Goodrum have all managed to nestle themselves among the top 75 outfielders. Granted, Riley and Hays have upside potential, but while Santana is no longer in the pre-peak phase of his career (he turned 27 last August), he also has a high ceiling.
In his breakout 2017 season with the Brewers, Santana slashed .278/.371/.505 with 30 home runs, 85 RBIs, 88 runs and 15 stolen bases. That was good enough to make him the 14th-most valuable outfielder in standard 5×5 Roto leauges, as well as in 5×5 leagues that used OBP instead of batting average. Then in 2018, Santana declined in terms of plate discipline, contact rate and power, and he wound up spending more than a third of the season back in Triple-A. That epic collapse, as captured in a .265/.328/.412 slash line and a 98 wRC+, may be working to depress Santana’s ADP two offseasons later.
Getting a hitter with a possible ceiling of a top 20 outfielder barely inside the top 350 players overall is a tremendous steal, but wait…there’s more! Prior to sustaining a right elbow strain that limited his playing time and effectiveness in the second half, Santana was on his way to an even bigger season in 2019 with the Mariners. At the All-Star break, Santana was batting .286 with 18 home runs, 63 RBIs, 52 runs and six stolen bases. Had he stayed on that pace, he could have had a 30-110-90-10 season. With the rabbit ball, that was certainly an easier line to build in 2019 than in 2017, but it would have put him on a par with Eddie Rosario (the 26th-ranked outfielder in standard 5×5 value), and with a few extra stolen bases.
The .373 BABIP that Santana compiled in the first half should raise some skepticism, but only a little. He backed it up with a 28.4 percent line drive rate, which was less than two percentage points above his career rate, and his .285 xBA was a mere point below his actual batting average. In each of Santana’s previous three seasons, he had a BABIP of at least .359, and even in his disappointing 2018 campaign, he registered a .386 mark. He simply hits a lot of line drives and almost never pops out. He has seven infield flies in his six-year career, and he hit only one last season. Santana’s ability to square up the ball gives him the potential to be a .270 hitter, even though he steadily strikes out in close to one-third of his plate appearances.
There is no denying that Santana comes with a lot of risk. The same, however, can be said of several outfielders being taken 50 or more spots ahead of him, and as recently as a year ago, Santana demonstrated that he has the ceiling of a top 30 outfielder. If his deal with Cleveland goes through, he will have a home park that has played similarly for right-handed power as has Miller Park and T-Mobile Park. In terms of doubles power, Progressive Field has actually been far superior to T-Mobile Park. In going from the Mariners to the Indians, Santana trades one middle-of-the-road offense for another, though he is still at risk of losing opportunities to produce runs. For the Mariners, he was a middle-of-the-order staple and hit out of the third spot more frequently than any other. As the Indians’ roster is currently constructed, it’s easy to imagine that Santana will have trouble cracking the top five spots in the batting order.
By the time we factor in some regression from last season’s first-half performance, we still find ourselves with an outfielder who is deserving of a far higher ADP. A conservative projection still places Santana in the top 60 among outfielders, and a slightly more robust one gets him into the top 50, alongside hitters like Scott Kingery and Hunter Dozier. Even with an admittedly low floor, that seems like an entirely reasonable ranking. As of now, though, you can wait until the late rounds of a 15-team draft and still add Santana to your roster.
Statistical credits (in addition to FanGraphs): Baseball Savant, Baseball-Reference, FantasyPros.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.