It’s only one game, but already the seat is hotter than ever on Royals’ first baseman Carlos Santana.
Royals fans know that Santana is on the last year of the two-year deal that he inked prior to the 2021 season. Furthermore, we also know that Santana is coming off a career-worst season offensively, which is evidenced by a career-low 83 wRC+ and -0.3 fWAR in 158 games and 659 plate appearances.
What makes the hot seat even hotter though is the presence of Nick Pratto, who was not only added to the 40-man roster this offseason but has gotten off to a stellar start in Triple-A Omaha.
Granted, Pratto’s profile isn’t immaculate by any means. In four games so far this season, Pratto is only hitting .188 with a .235 OBP over 16 at-bats. He has eight strikeouts to only one walk thus far with the Storm Chasers, which amplifies the concerns that many scouts and fans when it came to his swing and miss issues that plagued him in the lower minors early in his career.
However, the power tool has been on full display thus far in Triple-A play.
Pratto currently is posting a .563 slugging which boosts his OPS to .798, despite the meager OBP mark. Pratto has hit two home runs so far this year and has accumulated six RBI as well, much-needed for a Storm Chasers team that is depending on him for run production.
Here’s the tape of both Pratto home runs, which ironically were also his first two hits of the 2022 season:
Pratto will be given time to work through his pitch recognition and plate discipline in Triple-A. It would be foolish to call him up to Kansas City at this time, as Pratto needs a path to play every day, whether it’s in Kansas City or Omaha.
In addition, Pratto didn’t join the Storm Chasers until mid-season last year. So, going against Triple-A pitchers, who tend to be better at the start of the season than the second half (mostly because the good pitchers are up in the Major Leagues by that time), will also help Pratto develop and be more prepared when he gets his eventual call-up.
Now, what about Santana?
Santana didn’t have a bad game on Opening Day by any means. He went hitless, but he drew a walk and didn’t strike out, which is a good sign that his signature plate discipline is still in full force at the start of 2022.
However, David Lesky of Inside the Crown made an interesting observation about Santana on Opening Day, which is profiled in his latest recap:
Here’s a snippet about Santana from the piece:
It’s only one game, so I’m not going to make too many conclusions from this, but I thought Santana looked like basically the same guy we saw in the second half of 2021. I hated the Hunter Dozier bunt in the seventh inning, but it felt like an eternity between when Austin Hedges jumped on the ball from behind the plate and threw it to second. And Santana made it relatively close, but he was thrown out fairly easily. I also thought his bat looked slow. He was cheating to get to Bieber’s fastball early and he cranked a breaking ball foul, but he was pretty clearly gearing up to catch up and Bieber wasn’t even throwing that hard. We’ll see how he looks in a better hitting environment than that weather, but that’s a concern.“BOBBY, BOBBY, BOBBY!” by David Lesky; Inside the Crown
In addition, when looking at Santana’s Statcast metrics on his batted balls yesterday, he wasn’t generating a whole lot of EV on what he did hit. That is a concerning sign for a guy who was already having barrel rate issues a year ago (4.9 percent barrel rate in 2021).
Here’s a look at his chart against Shane Bieber on Opening Day:
Those are both some paltry batted balls for a guy hitting in the middle of the lineup and is expected to drive in runs.
Bieber is still a solid pitcher (albeit a little bit in regression in my opinion due to injury). Furthermore, it was such a cold day that not a lot of balls were flying, so it wasn’t like Santana’s exit velocity numbers are any exemption from what was seen from both Royals and Guardians hitters on Thursday afternoon.
Nonetheless, this will be an interesting development in the first month of play. If Pratto improves his average and cut’s the K’s, and if Santana continues to struggle to barrel balls, as was the case in the second half this year, it is totally plausible that Royals fans could see Pratto sooner rather than later.
Of course, what does that mean for Santana?
At this point, I’m not sure. Without a doubt, there’s not much of a market for him now when it comes to a possible trade. For the Royals to get any kind of value, they need to play Santana every day in April, and he needs to get off to a hot start, much like last April, when he was arguably the Royals’ best hitter.
The weather will be warmer on Saturday and Sunday at Kauffman Stadium…
Let’s hope Santana can take advantage and start barreling baseball in the first month of play.
Because if he’s able to do so, that could prompt a trade of Santana, which in turn would ensure a Pratto arrival by May or June at the very latest.
And honestly, that’s something a lot of Royals fans can get behind.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images