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Kevin Santa: the Mariners’ next top shortstop prospect

The 19th-rounder put himself on the map with some big time results in 2017

Jose Carlos Magaña

Mid-June of last year on the third day of the draft, nearly 48 hours after selecting Evan White in the first round of the 2017 MLB First Year Player Draft, the Mariners dove into the pool of available players looking to make a splash with their 19th-round-pick, and resurfaced with Kevin Santa, a shortstop from the University of Tampa. The 5’10” Puerto Rican was out to eat with his family back home when his brother saw his name appear as a Mariners selection, upon which the family shared cheers and tears in celebrating his success. Tampa--which has been something of a NCAA Division II powerhouse for much of the 2000’s--produced seven draft picks in the 2017 draft, Santa being the first to go after his teammate RHP Garrett Cave was taken off the board in the fourth round.

Santa’s path to the five-time-Coach of the Year Joe Urso’s club was a winding one that began overseas, where he was born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. While attending the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy--whose alumni includes Astros shortstop Carlos Correa--for three years as a high schooler, the left handed-hitting shortstop wound up talking in the stands at a tournament with a Minnesota Twins scout who was in attendance and had a connection to Chipola College Head Coach Jeff Johnson. After initially committing to the D-1 North Carolina A&T Aggies, Santa decided a junior college would better suit him from an academic standpoint, and ended up committing to play ball for coach Johnson at Chipola College--a baseball factory located in the Florida panhandle that has produced the likes of Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, and Patrick Corbin among others--bringing him stateside for the first time.

As a 19-year-old Freshman, Santa made his presence immediately felt, slashing .339/.417/.486 and walking 25 times compared to only 16 strikeouts through 48 games. Fun fact: that ended up being his worst offensive season of his four-year collegiate career (view his full collegiate stats here). Santa’s accomplishments didn’t come without a little adversity along the way. Speaking virtually no English upon his arrival in Florida, Santa credits country music, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line in particular, with helping him develop his English-speaking skills. On the field, he managed to overcome a broken left wrist he suffered on a play at the plate (NO MORE sliding into home for Mariners prospects!) that caused him to miss roughly half of his Junior, his first at the University of Tampa where he’d transferred after graduating from junior college.

Santa continued his track record of success right on into his professional career, absolutely torching the Arizona Rookie League with a .394 average that would have lead the league had he qualified. Instead, he was deployed as a young High-A player with the Modesto Nuts for 15 games where the results tapered off a bit as he posted a BABIP-suppressed wRC+ of 77, and even had a brief stint as a very young Triple-A player in Tacoma. In describing his offensive approach, the now-22-year-old referenced the organizational emphasis placed on controlling the strike zone and that he understands that success in doing so will aid his ascent through the system. Throughout his collegiate career, Santa demonstrated advanced plate discipline skills, regularly exceeding a 10.0% walk rate while striking out just over half that frequently. Now through his first 118 plate appearances, he’s matched his strikeout total of 15 with 15 walks. He also showed off a little versatility throughout his inaugural professional season, seeing time at second and third in addition to shortstop. He even wound up on the mound for an inning of mop-up duty on July 14th when he tossed a clean inning against the Visalia Rawhide on the back of a two-pitch arsenal consisting of a sidearm fast and curveball.

While Santa isn’t listen by’s Prospect Pipeline as a Top 30 organizational prospect, it wouldn’t be shocking in the least to see him take a step forward in 2018. With another strong offensive campaign, he may leapfrog 2016 third-round-pick Bryson Brigman who was utilized more as a second baseman at Clinton last season, and he appears to be leaps and bounds ahead #12 prospect Juan Querecuto, an 18-year-old shortstop who was signed out of Venezuela back in July. If the he can keep up the solid plate approach he’s shown off throughout college and his first taste of the minors, a productive first professional season beyond the rookie ball ranks would go a long way in putting Kevin Santa on the map as perhaps the Mariners top--and definitely closest to big league ready--shortstop prospect.