KC Royals & Carlos Santana: Still an open question

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

Carlos Santana returns to Cleveland today for the third time since leaving the city where he played all but one of his 12 big league seasons and established reputations for power and getting on base. But Santana, now the KC Royals’ first baseman, returns not with the kind of game he gave the Indians for 11 years, but instead plagued by a bat in significant disrepair.

His .216/.322/.354 line in 145 games this season pales in comparison to the .251/.368/.450 he put up as an Indian, and his 19 home runs are, excluding last year’s pandemic-shortened season, the fewest he’s hit since clubbing the same number in 2015.

Those stats, unlikely to improve drastically with only 11 games left in the season after today’s Progressive Field doubleheader, beg the question of Santana’s Kansas City future. Whether the Royals still consider him a sufficient solution to the first base problem they’ve faced since Eric Hosmer departed will determine whether they bring Santana back next season to complete his two-year deal.

It’s a fair question, one mlb.com implicitly raised in its Sunday story identifying players whose teams shouldn’t “give up” on them after poor 2021 efforts. But in Santana’s case, the answer may depend less on his performance, and more on Nick Pratto’s.

Considering Pratto’s disastrous 2019 season, one that could have derailed his career in other organizations, and the fact he reached Triple-A only this July, it’s reasonable to assume the KC Royals might want to give him at least another half-season at Omaha before testing him in the majors. But his excellent 2021 numbers could force the club’s hand, and Santana out of Kansas City.

So good was Pratto’s resurgence at Double-A Northwest Arkansas this season (15 homers, 43 RBIs and .271/.404/.570 in 61 games) that the Royals decided against giving him a full Double-A campaign to recover from his ugly 2019 and last year’s lost minor league season, and promoted him to Omaha July 20.

And moving up a level didn’t slow Pratto until recently. He hit .279 with four homers in July for Omaha and slashed .278/.372/.670 with nine home runs in August. But although he hit his 16th Storm Chaser home run Saturday night, giving him 31 for the minor league campaign, he’s batting only .151 this month.

The KC Royals will keep a close eye on Santana and Pratto down the stretch.

What Pratto does during the rest of Omaha’s season—like Kansas City, the Storm Chasers have a couple of weeks left to play—will surely impact Santana. If Pratto stays cold and his September slump deepens, the KC Royals may decide he needs more seasoning and pencil him in for a Triple-A start in 2022; but if he gets hot again, the club might plan on him as its Opening Day first baseman.

There’s always spring training, of course, but if new General Manager J.J. Picollo has any designs on moving Santana, he’d probably prefer to shop him on the more active winter market. That means how Pratto, and to a lesser extent Santana, perform in the next couple of weeks could have much to do with what the Royals look like when they open the 2022 campaign March 31 in Cleveland.

Next. Early trouble haunts KC rookie again. dark

Carlos Santana has one year left on his contract with the Royals. But whether he’ll be back is an open question.