Battle for Third Base Set to Begin Today
As we have said so many times before, the most important battle taking place this spring for the Indians is the battle for third base. In one corner, Lonnie Chisenhall, the former top prospect who has struggled to make a name for himself at the big league level. In the other corner, Carlos Santana, the former everyday catcher and OBP machine. Chisenhall got the first chance to make an impression, going 0 for 1 with a walk during the Indians 8-3 loss to the Reds yesterday. Today, it’s Santana’s turn.
When is comes to making the decision as to who will play the majority of the innings at third, both players will be evaluated on opposite aspects of the game. For Chisenhall to win the job, he has to hit well. He would also greatly increase his chances if he can hit left-handed pitching better than he has in year’s past. As it stand right now, even if he were the starting third baseman, he’s very unlikely to see many at bats against left-handed starters. So improving on that flaw would go a long way in helping him win the job.
For Carlos Santana, defense will be the main determiner. In evaluating Carlos Santana, the third baseman, there are several aspects of playing the position that we will need to pay attention to. They are, in no particular order:
- Footwork – How well does Carlos Santana move at the hot corner? Footwork was always an issue with Santana behind the plate with throwing out runners. He had a tendency to get a little sloppy and a little lazy. The end result was less than spectacular results throwing out would be base stealers. At third, footwork will play a pivotal role in how well Santana can square up and get in front of the ball. It will also be key in initiating the 5-4-3 double play and his throwing accuracy. Can he get himself balanced to make throws or will he unnecessarily rush himself?
Arm – We already know that Santana has a cannon for an arm, you kinda have to in order to play catcher in the big leagues. The primary concern will be accuracy. Can he consistently make the throw from third over to first? Can he handle making the throw to second on double plays and put the ball where it needs to be so that Jason Kipnis doesn’t get blown up by the runner?
- Judging ground balls – A big part in being a successful infielder, regardless of position, is being able to properly judge ground balls. This includes taking the proper angle on balls hit to his right or left and, more importantly, determining how to play a short hop. Can he properly determine when to charge and when to sit back?
- Situational plays – How does Santana handle various situations that arise during the course of a game? While the catcher is the captain of the infield, there isn’t much in the way of split second decision-making. It’s limited mainly to which base to throw to on a bunt. Similarly, will Santana make the right decision on when to try to turn a double play and when to just take the out at first? What about with a runner on third? Will Santana make the right decision between when to take the chance throwing home and when to take the out? Even more importantly, will Santana know when to just eat the ball rather than trying to make an off-balanced or rushed throw?
- Run downs – He dealt with them as a catcher, but now the chances of participating in a run down have been doubled. Let’s see how well he handles them.
- Other nuances - A lot of people probably feel like the gist of playing third base is to catch ground balls and throw to first. Yes, and no. There’s a lot more to it than that and it takes time to learn all of the finer details of the position. This includes serving as the cutoff man for the left fielder on plays to the plate and making the relay throw to home, properly laying down the tag on plays at third, charging on bunts and playing bunts in general, working in unison with the shortstop on the left side, and chasing down pop-ups in the no man’s land along the third base line and foul territory, among other things.
How well Santana performs the above tasks at third will go a long way in helping the Tribe’s coaching staff determine whether or not he can be a viable third base option. After all, how this plays out will go a long way in determining the make up of the rest of the roster. If Santana plays so well that he becomes the primary third baseman, what does that mean for Chisenhall? Does he become a bench player or does he get sent to Columbus? Also, do they carry an additional catcher? It’s a huge decision, one that is going to take time to determine and will go a long way in shaping the 2014 Indians.