Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Carlos Santana

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Carlos Santana was in the middle of one of the best rookie seasons ever by a catcher when a gruesome home-plate collision on August 2 left him with a season-ending knee injury, but he’s healthy now and ready to make Dodgers fans miserable remembering the mid-2008 trade that sent Santana to Cleveland for Casey Blake.

Because excellent plate discipline is such a big part of Santana’s game and not everyone appreciates the value of on-base percentage relative to, say, homers and RBIs, his numbers may not scream superstar. However, he’s capable of becoming an elite offensive catcher and is also no slouch defensively behind the plate, giving him MVP-caliber upside.

Santana hit .260 with a .401 on-base percentage and .467 slugging percentage in his 46-game debut with the Indians, smacking 19 extra-base hits in 150 at-bats and drawing 37 walks compared to just 29 strikeouts. In doing so he joined Jason Kendall in 1998 as the only two catchers in the past 70 years to crack a .400 OBP and .850 OPS at age 24. And the switch-hitter is capable of even more after batting .296 with 37 homers, more walks (135) than strikeouts (124), and a .983 OPS in 189 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Santana has the patience and strike-zone control to get on base at a .400 clip even while hitting .260, but if his batting average creeps up into the .280 range and his power develops like the minor-league track record suggests he can be an absolute monster offensively at a position where on-base machines are awfully hard to find. In fact, during the past 50 years the only catchers with a career OBP above .375 are Joe Mauer (.407), Gene Tenace (.388), Mike Piazza (.377), and Jorge Posada (.377).

I’ll be shocked if Santana doesn’t join that group.

Kevin Kiermaier on Rays’ recent moves: “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset.”

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On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”

Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.

The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.

When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.