Santana, Liriano dream of playing in Majors together

Close friends may get their wish this season with Brewers

Santana, Liriano dream of playing in Majors together

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They used to hang out at the car wash in the Dominican Republic and dream of being teammates. When that came true at the end of January, Domingo Santana and Rymer Liriano began to dream bigger.

"In the Dominican, at the car wash, they have bars and stuff like that," Santana said. "We go wash our cars and stay there two, three hours and just talk about baseball. Talk about his daughter, my daughter. The future. About what we want to do. ... Everything just started coming together every time we played [on the same team]. So I told him, 'Man, if we played in the big leagues on the same team, we'd be battling for MVP and stuff like that.'

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"And look now, we're on the same team."

On Tuesday, they were in the same Brewers' lineup. Santana, acquired from the Astros last July, batted leadoff and manned right field, where he's expected to be on Opening Day. Liriano, picked up in a trade with the Padres, hit third and got a look in center field. He's out of options and vying for the center-field opening, or a spot on the bench.

The two are hopeful that Liriano's hot start in the Cactus League -- he entered Tuesday's game against the White Sox 3-for-7 with a double, a triple and a number of loud outs -- leads to a roster spot.

They live less than two minutes apart in Santo Domingo and played together over the winter for Tigres del Licey, with Liriano and Santana manning the corners around center fielder Leonys Martin of the Mariners. Away from the field, Liriano and Santana pushed each other in early morning workout sessions with the same strength and conditioning coach. They spent time at the beach and at the movies, and made plans to share a Spring Training apartment with two others in Brewers camp, infielder Yadiel Rivera and catcher Rene Garcia.

Santana's leaping catch

Many days, they spent time in the sun at the car wash, talking baseball.

"I'm really, really, really ready to play in the big leagues," Liriano said.

As recently as three years ago, Liriano ranked among baseball's Top 100 prospects. But he never gained a foothold with the Padres, missing all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery, then batting .220 with three extra-base hits in 38 games in the Majors in 2014. He eventually found himself blocked by Matt Kemp and other outfielders.

The trade to Milwaukee, for Minor League left-hander Trevor Seidenberger, offered the 24-year-old Liriano a fresh shot at the Majors.

"He's a talented player. I think he's a high-impact player," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "I'm going to rerun this statement, but he's [attempting to] turn his talent into skills. He's in a good place right now, offensively."

Defensively, Liriano has speed (he stole 68 bases in 2011) but profiles more as a corner outfielder, Counsell said. The Brewers, however, have an opening in center, and Liriano is in a large field of competitors.

"It's a really good trade for me," Liriano said. "I have a lot of chances to play in the big leagues. I feel really good in center field. I like running and I have a lot of chances to catch the ball."

Santana's two-run double

Said Santana: "He looks like a Wily Mo Pena, but makes way more contact. He has tremendous power. He can run. He can throw. He can do everything."

Santana is rooting for his buddy to stick with the Brewers.

"You want to see your friend be at the same level so we can talk about Major League Baseball, and not Minor League Baseball," Santana said. "There's nothing [left] to talk about in the Minor Leagues. It's living your dream, talking about facing [Clayton] Kershaw and all those guys. It's really fun."

While Liriano fights for a spot, Santana's was sealed Feb. 12, when new general manager David Stearns traded left fielder Khris Davis to the A's for two prospects. The Brewers subsequently moved Ryan Braun back to his original outfield position, left field, to open right for the strong-armed Santana.

Acquired from the Astros along with three other top prospects for Carlos Gomez and and Mike Fiers, Santana turned 23 about a week later and made it to the Majors with the Brewers on Aug. 21.

He made the most of his late-season stint in center field, hitting .231/.345/.421 with six home runs in 38 games. By virtue of his robust on-base percentage (he reached at a .373 clip in parts of seven Minor League seasons in the Phillies, Astros and Brewers systems), Santana is one of Counsell's candidates to bat leadoff this season.

Santana welcomed that opportunity.

"I didn't know that, but, to me, that would be perfect," he said. "More at-bats. You get more fastballs. That would be pretty good."

His late-season performance in the Majors "made me feel real good," Santana said. "[Counsell] told me I had a really good chance of playing every day, so that feels really good."

If Santana's good friend makes the roster, it would feel even better.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.