CLEVELAND -- A new No. 41 will crouch behind the plate when the Indians open a three-game series against the Nationals at Progressive Field on Friday night. Carlos Santana, the most promising prospect in the Indians' system and one of the more hyped young players in all the Minors, has arrived in Cleveland from Triple-A Columbus and will be wearing that No. 41 when he makes his debut against the Nats. And as a switch-hitting catcher with run-producing tools, he'll have the opportunity to capture the imagination of fans the way his hero and the Tribe's former No. 41, Victor Martinez, once did. Santana's promotion, which bumped rookie catcher Lou Marson to Columbus, comes, appropriately enough, in the wake of Martinez's Red Sox leaving town. It also comes as the Indians are gearing up to face another of the game's more heralded future stars, Stephen Strasburg, who is fresh off a dazzling debut against the Pirates. An intriguing Strasburg-Santana matchup looms on Sunday.
In fact, this has been the Week of the Prized Prospect Promotion. Santana's debut will follow those of Strasburg, the Marlins' Mike Stanton, the Pirates' Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata and the Orioles' Jake Arrieta. Tribe fans, who have watched their beloved ballclub's offense labor much of this season, have been clamoring to see the 24-year-old Santana, owner of a 1.044 OPS in Triple-A, get the call. They finally got their wish. "You're talking about a guy who's one of the top prospects in all of Minor League baseball," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "He's a switch-hitting, run-producing catcher with the chance to impact the game on both sides. He's extremely aggressive with the bat but also doesn't swing and miss very often. There are likely to be some growing pains, but he's certainly a guy who's going to be fun to watch." Santana was certainly fun to watch in Columbus. He earned the promotion by batting .316 with 13 homers, 14 doubles and 51 RBIs in 57 games for the Clippers. In his final game with Columbus, he went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs against Rochester on Thursday. His on-base percentage (.447), walks total (45) and OPS all topped the International League. He also stole six bases in as many attempts. Acquired by the Tribe in the July 2008 trade that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers, Santana was the Eastern League MVP for Double-A Akron in 2009 and the California League MVP at the Class A level in '08. The Indians knew Santana's bat was ready before the season began. But they wanted to see him develop defensively in his first exposure to Triple-A. "In the last two or three weeks," Shapiro said, "he's really made some strides in the defensive part of the game, his game-calling, his leading of the staff and his throwing. He'll still be a work in progress defensively up here, but we felt it was the right time, for both players, to make the move." They made the move with the 23-year-old Marson, one of four acquisitions in last summer's Cliff Lee trade with the Phillies, despite the obvious growth he had displayed over the course of this season. Marson was knocked in the season's first week for his handling of wild pitches, but he began to prove himself as an elite defender, catching 16 of 42 runners attempting to steal, the best percentage (38 percent) in the AL. On the offensive side, Marson, batting just .191 with a .530 OPS, had learned to become more aggressive at the plate, and he contributed a key two-run single in the Tribe's 8-7 win over the Red Sox on Thursday night. But the Indians feel he is better-served by going to Triple-A and, in Shapiro's words, "[giving] his bat a chance to catch up to his defense." Make no mistake, though. This move was more about Santana than Marson, who could eventually emerge as a valuable trade commodity for the Tribe. It is also possible that both backstops could find themselves on the Indians' active roster, with Santana spending some time at first base. However it all shakes out in the end, for now the focus is on Santana getting his first crack at the big leagues and his first chance to live up to the hype. But Shapiro cautioned that there will be a learning curve for Santana. "The expectations are clear," Shapiro said. "Any time there's a guy with a profile like him, you can't hide from it. It's a guy who has performed and has the tools and skills to match the performance. The expectations are high. What has to be tempered is for those expectations to be achieved instantaneously. That's not realistic. There are going to be great nights, exciting nights, and there are going to be nights that demonstrate that he's still a young player who hasn't caught very long." But once Santana catches on, he could fill the void left by Martinez.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.