Indians call up hitting prospect Carlos Santana

CLEVELAND (AP) — With Stephen Strasburg in town, the Cleveland Indians brought up their own hotshot rookie prospect.

The club recalled switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana from Triple-A Columbus on Friday and started him in the opener of a three-game series against the Washington Nationals, who will give Strasburg his first major league road start in the finale on Sunday.

"He's as ready as any guy we've brought up as a hitter," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said of Santana, who hit .316 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs in 57 games for the Clippers.

Santana batted third on Friday and went hitless in three at-bats with a run and walk in Cleveland's 7-2 win.

Indians manager Manny Acta said the 24-year-old probably will be in the No. 3 hole against Strasburg, who struck out 14 in his dazzling debut against Pittsburgh.

"The kid is here to play," Acta said. "He probably doesn't hit No. 3 if (injured top two hitters) Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore were here, maybe fifth or sixth, but he's a very good hitter and here to catch every day."

Santana, with assistant bullpen coach Ruben Niebla serving as interpreter, said he was pleasantly surprised to get called up.

"I'm very happy," Santana said. "The first person I called when I heard the news was my mom. I think every boy, when he starts to play the game, dreams of playing in the major leagues. I'm excited that it happened to me."

Santana, regarded as one of the best prospects in the majors and perhaps the best hitter in Cleveland's entire organization, was kept in the minor leagues this season to work on his receiving skills and overall defense.

"We had challenged Carlos," Shapiro said. "It's clear that his bat had dictated a call-up a while ago. But in the last two or three weeks he has made significant strides in his defensive aspects — his game calling, leading the staff and his throwing."

In Cleveland, Santana will work with coach Sandy Alomar Jr., one of the greatest catchers in team history.

"That's huge for him to develop under Sandy," Acta said. "We're putting something together here and he's a big part of it. Carlos is part of the next wave."

To make room for Santana, the club optioned catcher Lou Marson to Triple-A Columbus. Marson, acquired last season in the Cliff Lee trade to Philadelphia, was batting just .191 in 45 games. Marson was leading AL catchers in throwing out baserunners.

"We put a plan in place that accomplished two things," Acta said. "It gave Lou a chance to play up here and improve and gave Santana time to develop his defense.

"Lou struggled at times on offense, but never let it affect his defense. Now he can go down and get his offense to catch up."

Santana was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 in the deal for third baseman Casey Blake. Last year, Santana was the Indians' top minor league player after he earned the Double-A Eastern League's MVP, leading the Aeros to the championship by batting .290 with 23 homers and 97 RBIs.

"He's a guy we targeted," Shapiro said. "Any time you bring a prospect up, it is a lift for the organization. This is a good day, a fun day."

The Indians have high hopes for Santana and are doing all they can to keep it in perspective.

"He's still a prospect," Shapiro said, "and there will be some growing pains. But he's a guy who will be fun to watch and has the upside to be a star."

Shapiro anticipates watching a Santana vs. Strasburg matchup on Sunday.

"As a baseball fan, I appreciate talent," he said. "I wish (Strasburg) wasn't going against us, but it will be fun to watch him pitch."