Texas Rangers

Danny Santana returns to Minnesota, where he once was a rising rookie star

Danny Santana was a rising star in the big leagues after he hit .319 with 27 doubles and seven homers in 101 games during his 2014 rookie season.

But Santana never duplicated that success with the Minnesota Twins and was eventually traded to the Atlanta Braves in May 2017. His hitting struggles continued, and he played only 15 major league games in 2018.

The Braves released him in October, and the Texas Rangers took a chance on him as a free agent in January.

Santana returns to Minnesota this weekend as the Rangers start a three-game series with the Twins at Target Field on Friday. It’s the first time Santana has returned since the trade in 2017.

He returns playing the best baseball since his rookie season, when the Twins thought they had an everyday player for the future.

“I feel happy to go to my old home,” said Santana, who had an RBI double in the Rangers’ Thursday night game against the Los Angeles Angles. “A lot of them wanted to see me like I am now, like I was my first year with them. I’m happy to go there, and they’re going to see me (playing) that way.”

Santana has proved to be a highly versatile option for Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward, playing six different positions, including his 10th game at first base Thursday night.

“It’s hard to understate his importance,” Woodward said. “He’s been crucial for not only where we are recordwise, but just healthwise. He’s filled in, allowed guys to get days off but also played a significant role and very productive role anywhere we’ve put him.”

Santana has taken over a similar role as Jurickson Profar filled for several years. His numbers at the plate are already better than any season since 2014. He has nine homers, 11 doubles, 25 RBIs and was batting .297 before Thursday’s game. Woodward marvels at his ability to play center field one game, first base the next and then short stop. He’s even taking ground balls at third base in case the Rangers have an injury situation that hinders their depth.

“It’s kind of ridiculous … it’s not easy to do that. It’s not easy to play shortstop, center field, first base,” he said. “The beautiful thing is he wants to play every day, and I think he’s earned the right to play more. He’s never going to complain; he’s a true team-first guy. That’s provided a huge amount of value for us.”

There were times Santana wasn’t sure he’d ever play the kind of baseball he flashed as a rookie. But he’s been doing it now for almost four months with Texas.

“I had to thank God that I’m on the right track in baseball,” Santana said. “That’s what I hoped and wanted. I was frustrated. After I had that great first year, I had four years that were really, really bad. I was struggling a lot. I was a little bit mentally struggling. I learned a lot from that.”

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Stefan Stevenson has been covering sports for the Star-Telegram since 1997. He spent five years covering TCU athletics, which included two BCS bowls, two trips to the college World Series and the move to the Big 12. He has covered the Texas Rangers since 2014 and started reporting on the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.