Mailbag: Is Santana the real deal?
MLB.com reporter Anthony Castrovince answers fans' queries
-- Paul S., Cleveland He's already in Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Isn't that enough? (Note: I am contractually obligated to make at least one lame joke per month about guitar legend Carlos Santana when discussing Minor League catcher Carlos Santana. Forgive me.) Everyone I talk to who has seen Santana says he is the real deal, and the numbers certainly agree. Santana hit a combined .326 with 21 homers and 117 RBIs in 130 games between advanced Class A Inland Empire and Kinston. He had a .999 OPS, led all the Minors with 125 runs scored and ranked second in RBIs. It's little wonder, then, that MiLB.com named him the Best Class A Advanced Hitter in '08. What impressed me most about Santana was the way his numbers didn't take even the slightest bit of a dip after he was acquired in the July 26 trade that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers. As we saw with Matt LaPorta, it's natural for young players to struggle with such a jarring transition -- and, on top of that, the Carolina League was regarded as more of a pitching-friendly league. It's a credit to Santana that he never skipped a beat. On the defensive end, the 22-year-old Santana has a strong arm, but he has room to improve as a receiver. How quickly he improves will go a long way toward determining his big league timetable, as will the Indians' decisions involving Kelly Shoppach and Victor Martinez. With Santana beginning '09 in Double-A, I'd say a 2010 big league break-in is not out of the realm of possibility. One other note on Santana: The Indians have him working on his English this offseason. They know that in order to ascend at a leadership position like catcher, he'll need to be bilingual. Can Shin-Soo Choo earn a South Korean military exemption if he plays with Korea in the World Baseball Classic?
-- Ryan M., Marion, Ind. It appears doubtful. The members of the Korean team received an exemption for reaching the event's semifinals in 2006. That offer was made because it was the tournament's inaugural run. Both Choo and a reporter from a Korean newspaper told me they don't expect that exemption to be offered in 2009. For what it's worth, Choo nonetheless hopes to participate in the World Baseball Classic. What is going to happen with Rafael Betancourt next season? Why did he struggle so much? Do you think he'll be on the trading block?
-- Max M., Cleveland
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-- Kenny K., Elyria, Ohio Shapiro works within a budget that must be tempered by the realities of the market in which the Indians play. Do I agree with all the moves he's made (and not made)? Of course not. But I have at least understood his rationale behind the majority of those moves, given his budget constraints and the value he must place on his young talent when evaluating trade proposals. If you want a more on-target criticism of the Shapiro regime, point to the organization's struggle to draft and develop its own talent. After all, the Tribe's only No. 1 Draft selection since CC Sabathia (1998) to make a sustained impact at the big league level is Jeremy Guthrie -- and he's made that impact in Baltimore, not Cleveland. On the bright side, Shapiro and company have done a good job identifying and acquiring young talent from other organizations and turning it into Major League talent. Witness Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Asdrubal Cabrera, Kelly Shoppach, Travis Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo, to name a few. What is the major problem that the Indians have with Andy Marte? We knew that he wasn't going to be a high-average hitter when we traded for him. It seems that he has had to look over his shoulder every time he has been inserted as the starter because his average was down. He looked reasonable in the last couple months of the season to at least rate a look, in my opinion. What do you hear?
-- Ray S., Grimes, La. The Indians really seem to take issue with Marte's inability to hit in the big leagues. That has irked them, for some reason. You're right that his power potential, not his batting average, was touted when he was acquired in the Coco Crisp trade. But that power was virtually nonexistent this past season, even when Marte turned his performance up a notch in the season's final two months. He hit .291 from Aug. 5 through the end of the season but had just seven doubles, a triple and no homers in that span. While I think the way Marte was handled the first half of the season was unreasonable, the fact is this guy had a legitimate shot in the second half and did very little with it. You're right that he had to look over his shoulder every time he was inserted into the starting lineup. But that's life in the big leagues, I'm afraid. Of course, Marte's situation isn't solely his fault. His acquisition was an organizational error. The Indians overvalued his potential and unnecessarily rocked the boat after a 93-win 2005 by trading away their starting left fielder for a third-base prospect who has yet to pan out. Perhaps Marte, out of Minor League options, will have another opportunity elsewhere and will capitalize on it. But I don't see much of a future with the Indians. And finally... Do you ever see any Tribe players wearing their Minor League championship rings around the clubhouse? I know that Grady has one for winning it with Double-A Akron and Jhonny Peralta has one from winning with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
-- Teddy E., Asheville, N.C. No. That would be pretty weak. Right up there with people who wear their high school rings. Or people who own "Charles in Charge" on DVD.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.