Detroit Tigers expected to sign shortstop Cristian Santana

Equipment on the field as the Detroit Tigers take batting practice. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Equipment on the field as the Detroit Tigers take batting practice. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

The Tigers are projected to make a significant splash on the international free agent market by signing Cristian Santana, a young Dominican infielder.

The lack of baseball games has put an understandable crunch on the amount of baseball news available to the public. Like a kinked hose, the flow of information is reduced to a trickle with the occasional splash of interesting  particulars regarding some oft-ignored corner of the sport. Earlier this week Tigers fans were treated to a report from Baseball America’s Ben Badler that the team is expected to sign Cristian Santana, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic, when international free agency begins this summer.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about a link between the Tigers and Santana, but the report flew mostly under the radar when it initially came to light. Without much else to focus our attention on transactionally, it’s clear this time around that it’s worth keeping an eye on what happens with Santana this summer.

Santana is ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect in the 2020 international free agent class and is likely to receive a deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million, obviously making him the jewel of the group who will be the Tigers’ 2020 signees. He’s the cousin of Wenceel Perez, a Tigers prospect who became well-known in 2018 for his extreme hand-eye coordination, but Santana is anticipated to be a better prospect than his older relative.

The Badler report was optimistic about Santana’s offensive upside, noting that despite his young age, he has a short swing and a mature approach at the plate. He also has standout athleticism, which only boosts his abilities at the plate and in the field. There isn’t anything included in the small paragraph about Santana regarding his ability in the field, but the attached video shows quick feet but poor routes and instincts that will require smoothing out with professional instruction and reps.

Santana’s addition to the Tigers’ farm system would be a welcome one; his talents are scarce among the players in Detroit’s pipeline. In a rebuild that has centered on a group of pitching prospects with the depth and quality to outclass almost any other in the game, a legitimate shortstop with offensive tools is nowhere to be found. Of course, tempered expectations are important when considering a player from the international market who is yet to establish himself. But if Santana’s apparent upside translates to stateside gameplay, it’d be a refreshing addition to see more quality depth among position players in the pipeline.

As with the huge majority of players imported from international markets, Santana is still just 16 years old. In general, there is a direct correlation between how old a prospect is and how much variance there is in his possible career outcomes, and therefore, a higher risk of not reaching his ceiling. Youth-obsessed teams looking to get in on the ground floor of a prospect’s development don’t mind taking those risks.

The Tigers have taken a while to get on board with the trend of paying large sums to the top players available and the trend in years past has been to spread their bonus pool around among a wide array of players on mostly inconsequential contracts. It’s a pattern led the Tigers to sign a number of handful players who have made an impact in pro ball, and a few have even established themselves as prospects. That strategy hasn’t paid dividends at the major league level (no, Harold Castro doesn’t count) and the Tigers have recently switched their tactic.

Of course, the deal isn’t done yet, but it’s not unusual for contracts are agreed upon with a handshake arrangement years in advance of the young player’s eligibility as an international free agent. In fact, unlike in MLB free agency, uncertainty in the landing spots of the top prospects in any given class is the exception rather than the rule. Something wildly unexpected would have to spring up in order for Santana to be with a different organization once his become available.

When he does, the Tigers may have finally found their shortstop of the future.