Santana, Escobar to engage in shortstop competition

Santana, Escobar to engage in shortstop competition

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Paul Molitor took over as Twins manager from Ron Gardenhire, one of the major questions was how he'd handle the shortstop position in 2015.

Gardenhire opted to play Danny Santana mostly out of position as a rookie last season, as he made twice as many starts in center field than he did at his natural position with 62 starts in center and 31 at shortstop. It was mostly out of necessity, as the Twins didn't have a capable everyday center fielder and Eduardo Escobar had a breakout season at shortstop, hitting .275 with 35 doubles in 133 games.

But upon his hiring, Molitor quickly asserted he planned to move Santana back to shortstop, creating a competition with Escobar in Spring Training. Santana, who emerged as one of the top rookies in the American League by hitting .319/.353/.472 with 41 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in 101 games, is considered the heavy frontrunner to be the club's regular shortstop, but Molitor said nothing is set in stone just yet.

Escobar's diving stop

"It's probably been one of the more awkward things for me this winter in dealing with that situation," Molitor said. "Obviously, I have to go in there open-minded about how it will play out. I can't say Santana will be the shortstop because things can change. Escobar deserves an opportunity to play and whether it's spotting around the organization or he has to go back to shortstop, I can't tell you it all will work out."

Escobar, 26, finally got his chance to be an everyday player last season and took advantage by being one of the club's most productive offensive players. But Escobar does have experience as a super-utility player, as he's seen time at third base, second base, left field and center field.

Escobar made it clear he prefers to play every day, but said he's willing to do whatever his new manager asks of him.

"This season is important for me," Escobar said. "I'm coming in ready to play. I don't know if I'm going to be the starting shortstop or not, but I've been working hard to be ready for Spring Training. If Molitor wants me to play shortstop, or wherever, I'm ready for it."

Santana's jumping catch

Santana, 23, said he was excited to hear that he's moving back to shortstop, as he had only played 25 games in center field in the Minors, compared to 420 at shortstop. He's been taking 200 ground balls a day in his native Dominican Republic to get ready for the season, and thinks he can build on his strong rookie campaign.

"I'm very happy about playing shortstop. I was waiting for that moment," Santana said. "Shortstop is my natural position. I just need to keep working and I can do the same thing as last year."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.