Around Tigers’ farm: Cristian Santana’s tough 2023 season gives way to Lakeland turnaround

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — On any list of 2023 Tigers farm mysteries there was, somewhere near the top, Cristian Santana.

Here was a shortstop for Single-A Lakeland, albeit 19 years old, who came into the season ranked as the 11th-best Tigers prospect.

And then he hit .105 in April and .063 in May and, well, no one could quite figure what had gone wrong for a right-handed hitter who still owns the heaviest signing bonus ($2.95 million) the Tigers have ever paid an international teen.

Life of late has been trending upward.

Santana hit .270 in July with four home runs. He has two this month, including one last Tuesday against Dunedin at Publix Field/Marchant Stadium, which was followed a turn later by a stars-high, fly-out to the fence in left.

His swing is full and clearly has mayhem in mind. What a difference from Santana’s spring.

“There were some mental and mechanical flaws that were highlighted when you’re young and struggling, as he was earlier in the season,” said Andrew Graham, who is Lakeland’s manager.

“Nick Bredeson (Lakeland hitting coach) worked hard to get him back into a more athletic position where he can do some damage. He also was a little passive early this season, trying to get walks, maybe because that was all (getting on base via walks) that was happening.

“He was really struggling. Every time he hit the ball, it was like his mechanics were working underneath, and he was popping up the ball.

“Now that he’s back in a more athletic hitting position, he’s doing more damage when he gets his pitch.”

Graham’s words are obvious in Santana’s spring stats:

Even with those anemic early batting averages, Santana’s on-base percentages from April-June were, .288, .333, and .370. On the season, in 79 games, his batting average is .167, his on-base .381.

It’s an astounding 214-point difference. Equally stunning are his 74 walks in 79 games. But, again, the extremes: Santana also has struck out 94 times.

“Scott Harris is huge on dominating the strike zone,” Graham said, speaking of the Tigers’ front-office chief. “Some of these guys got a little passive, trying to walk.

“Since we’ve kind of fixed up his swing a bit,” he said, speaking of Santana, “he’s been a little more aggressive. He’s still getting his walks (.466 on-base in July, .417 in August), but he’s getting more now into hitters’ counts, leveraged counts.

“And he’s beginning to do the damage we’ve expected.”

Paul Wilson: Still recovering

Little — if anything — was said at the time, but the Tigers’ third-round pick in July, left-handed pitcher Paul Wilson, was rehabbing from a sprained UCL ligament in his throwing arm when the Tigers drafted him.

He did it in the final spring game for Lakeridge High in Lake Oswego, Oregon, just outside Portland.

The UCL sprain was, in Wilson’s words, “minor” and was judged by doctors to be just that, with no surgery required. Wilson has been on a steady rehab program and is now throwing from 90 feet. He says he is expected to pitch serious bullpens and throw to hitters in September.

The Tigers weren’t bothered by the elbow issue and chased Wilson, hard, offering $1.7 million to win him from his Oregon State scholarship. The MLB-recommended bonus for Wilson’s place in the 2023 draft (76th overall) was $945,000.

“Getting hurt knocked me a round down (deeper) than I think I would have gone,” Wilson said last week, explaining how the Tigers kept him from Oregon State — and from possible destiny with the Dodgers, or with another big-league team.

“The Dodgers offered me slot for a mid-60s pick (approximately $1.2 million), but we were asking for a bit more, and they passed.

“We (he and his agent) were talking with the Tigers, with the Dodgers, with San Diego, but we saw the Tigers wanted me the most.”

Wilson said conversations with the Tigers were “touch and go” as he came “pretty close” to opting for Oregon State.

But the money worked — and an 18-year-old gent, 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, with a 97-mph fastball and four pitches, is on what he and the Tigers are wagering will be a path to the big leagues.

Wilson is the son of one-time MLB reliever Trevor Wilson, who pitched eight seasons (1988-98) with the Giants and Angels.

The elbow, Paul Wilson repeated last week, is simply not a serious matter.

“Scouts knew about it,” he said. “A few organizations shook their head at me: ‘No, we can’t take the risk.’

“Some teams didn’t care at all, and Detroit happened to be the club that cared the least.”

It takes a thief (in Lakeland)

Seth Stephenson, in the view of his manager, might be the fastest man in professional baseball.

His stolen-base numbers are in accord.

Stephenson has 56 swiped bases in 92 games for Lakeland. He plays center field (mostly) for the Flying Tigers, is 22 years old, is 5-8, 165, and bats right-handed.

Only one other player in professional ball has more thefts than Stephenson, Chandler Simpson, at Single-A Bowling Green (Tampa Bay Rays), who has an astonishing 83. Simpson is the only player other than Stephenson to have 50 or more stolen bags in 2023.

“He puts so much pressure on the other team,” Graham said. “He gets on first and he’s going to take second base — first or second pitch for sure.

“The funny thing is, he has a long way to go. He’s still learning how to steal third base. He hasn’t even opened up that box yet.”

Stephenson was a seventh-round pick by the Tigers (University of Tennessee) in 2022. If he hasn’t exactly been a conversation piece in Tigers farm circles it’s only because he hasn’t hit in high-altitude fashion.

Stephenson is batting .260 on the year, with a .365 on-base percentage and .735 OPS.

“As he goes up the (farm) chain, it’s going to be harder to steal bases,” Graham said, “but he has plus-plus speed.”

And, with all that range, he can defend, as he confirmed Wednesday against Dunedin when he made a trans-continental sprint from center and nearly had a season-highlight catch until the ball squirted from his glove as he dived and hit Marchant Stadium’s turf.

“Just for him to get there,” Graham said, shaking his head, and suggesting that Stephenson’s hitting, while not a headline skill, could yet get him to the big leagues.

“He’s not going to be knocking home runs over the fence,” Graham said of a man who has two home runs for Lakeland in 2023, “but he can still be a line-drive hitter. He gets on base, causes havoc, can steal 30 or 40-plus bags in the big leagues, and be a defender off the bench.

“Who knows what will happen?”

Short hops

▶ Graham on Jim Jarvis, a shortstop from the University of Alabama who was the Tigers’ 11th-round pick last month and who has had a nice start at Lakeland (seven games, .296/.406/.481/.887: “Athletic player. Got some tools. He can run. He’s got a good arm. Can play shortstop, third, or second base. He’s going to be an exciting guy to watch.”

▶ The Tigers might have made a gainful deal, after all, with the Dodgers even if the Eduardo Rodriguez trade fell through: Eddys Leonard, only 22, is seven games into his Toledo Mud Hens life after Sunday and sported these numbers: .444 batting average, .467/.778/.1.245, with two home runs and three doubles. Leonard is a shortstop who can play at various infield posts and was landed by the Tigers in a cash deal with L.A. He bats right-handed, is 5-11, 195.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

Articles You May Like

Senator Mark Huizenga Visits LMCU Ballpark Amid Construction Updates
Play Ball Weekend 2024
Days of Roar: Tough questions on Detroit Tigers’ .500 level of play
Alex Lange To Undergo Lat Surgery
GameThread: Tigers vs. Astros, 4:10 p.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *