Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.
When a team trades a veteran player for a collection of prospects, the often-talented-but-volatile return nets one or two solid players, if a club is lucky. When the Houston Astros traded veteran outfielder Hunter Pence to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011 the organization acquired four raw but promising players. Less than three years later all four prospects (SP Jarred Cosart, RP Josh Zeid, 1B Jon Singleton and OF Domingo Santana) are now big leaguers — and all on the Astros’ 25-man roster now that Santana was promoted today.
Standing 6-5 and weighing 225 pounds, the slugging outfielder was making mincemeat out of Triple-A pitchers especially considering he’s just 21 years old. He currently boasts a triple-slash line of .304/.383/.502 in 84 games. Make no mistake about it: Power is his main offensive weapon, but he’s also slowly becoming a more well-rounded player in part because he’s become a more selective hitter with an improved eye. That helped him place eighth on FanGraphs’ pre-season Astros Top 10 Prospects list.
Make no mistake about it, though, Santana has his warts and he’ll likely struggle as big league pitchers adjust to his game plan of hitting the ball a very long way. He may see some challenge fastballs early on, but he’ll no doubt receive a heavy dose of off speed stuff in the near future.
The Dominican native has produced some eye-popping strikeout rates over the past three years: 28%, 29% and 27%. He’s produced a strong batting average in three of the past four years (2011-14): .287, .302, .252, .304 but he’s also benefited significantly from high Batting Averages on Balls in Play (BABIP): .399, .397, .316, .406. It’s hard to believe that he can sustain those kinds of averages while also striking out at a +25% clip at the big league level.
Working in his favor, though, is that fact that he hits the ball so damn hard and he’s actually stinging it even more in 2014. His Isolated Slugging Rate (ISO) is down to .199 after average .240 over the previous two seasons but his line-drive rate is up to 22% after averaging just under 16% between 2012-13. He appears to have altered his approach a bit to create more line drives and fewer fly balls (that rate is down from 39% in 2013 to 24% in ’14).
When he’s on, the barrel of his bat appears to be staying in the hitting zone for a longer period of time, although he still has a habit of dropping the head of the bat and chasing low-and-away offerings. As alluded to above, Santana doesn’t have to swing from the heels to generate his power and nine of the right-handed hitter’s 13 homers were to right field. He has legitimate all-fields home-run pop even if he’s focusing simply on making good, hard contact.
With Santana, Singleton and George Springer, the Astros’ offensive trio has a chance to produce historical power numbers from the middle of Houston’s line up once they mature as hitters — 20 home runs could become the floor for their individual annual totals — but they could also reach unheard of heights in strikeout statistics.
George Springer (minors)
2011 — Not enough at-bats
2012 — 27 K% (A+/AA ball, Age 22)
2013 — 27 K% (AA/AAA ball, Age 23)
2014 — 25 K% (AAA ball, Age 24)
Jon Singleton (minors)
2011 — 23 K% (A+ ball, Age 19)
2012 — 24 K% (AA ball, Age 20)
2013 — 30 K% (3 Levels, Age 21)
2014 — 22 K% (AAA, Age 22)
Domingo Santana (minors)
2011 — 29 K% (A ball, Age 18)
2012 — 28 K% (A+ ball, Age 19)
2013 — 29 K% (AA ball, Age 20)
2014 — 27 K% (AAA ball, Age 21)
Now in the Majors, Springer’s strikeout rate has risen to 33% in 65 games. Singleton’s rate is up to 37%. One can only imagine where the younger, less experienced Santana’s rate could end up in his career’s the early going. However, in the long run, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Santana become the best pure hitter of the three sluggers — based on his all-fields-hitting ability, improving eye and selectiveness (as well as his improvements coming at a younger age than either Springer or Singleton).
The Astros likely aren’t going to compete for a playoff spot in 2014 but they’ll be a lot of fun to watch over the summer as the club continues to inch closer to being consistently competitive.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.