HOUSTON – Danny Santana didn’t have to change his various red-and-blue cleats when he was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Braves on Monday, and he didn’t go to a clubhouse where he knew no one.
But beyond that, the infielder-outfielder has a chance for a fresh start after seeing his stats and playing time decline since a promising rookie season in 2014.
“This is a great, big opportunity for me, so I’m grateful for Atlanta for giving this to me,” Santana said through an interpreter Tuesday afternoon, shortly after flying to Houston and joining his new team for a series opener against the Astros. “I’m excited and want to make the most of it.”
Looking for any way to improve their bench production, the Braves traded Triple-A left-hander Kevin Chapman and cash considerations to Minnesota for Santana, 26, a .266 hitter with 72 extra-base hits, 41 stolen bases and a .300 on-base percentage in 280 games over parts of four major league seasons with Minnesota.
Braves manager Brian Snitker put him in the lineup in left field Tuesday, batting ninth in the interleague game at Minute Maid Park. Left fielder Matt Kemp got a day to rest his legs a bit while serving as designated hitter Tuesday.
“Just throw him in the lineup. He’s gassed up and ready to go,” Snitker said before batting practice. “We got him, might as well play him.”
Santana had been designated for assignment Friday after hitting .200 with one homer and one stolen base in just 25 at-bats over 13 games.
That’s a far cry from his rookie season in 2014, when Santana hit .319 with a .353 OBP, seven triples, seven home runs and 20 stolen bases in 430 plate appearances over 110 games, including 62 starts in center field. He was seventh in the balloting for American League Rookie of the Year.
“I still believe that I have the ability to have those numbers and do those things,” Santana said, “so I just have to take advantage of this opportunity and utilize the skill set that I have to make the most of this opportunity that’s been given to me.”
His average fell by more than 100 points in 2015, and in 2016 he hit .240 with two triples, two homers and a .279 OBP in 75 games (248 plate appearances). Reports on him said that teams adjusted to Santana after developing scouting reports on him in his rookie season, and he has yet to make the necessary adjustments to counter.
“He can play all the infield positions, play all the outfield positions, run, switch-hit,” Snitker said. “He’s a nice little piece to add. He hasn’t played much over there. I asked Kurt (Suzuki, former Twins catcher) about him, he played with him last year, he had nothing but good things to say.”
In addition to Suzuki, Santana already knew Ender Inciarte and Emilio Bonifacio of the Braves, and was engaged in conversation and laughing with that pair soon after arriving Tuesday and getting fitted for his Braves uniform.
“I was happy — that was my first reaction” after hearing he’d been traded to the Braves, Santana said. “Then I was also glad to know that I knew a couple of guys on the team here, so that was comforting as well. More than anything else it’s just a new, fresh opportunity.”