Santana, who is currently suiting up for his native Dominican Republic in the Classic, has had a solid tournament for his homeland. In five Classic games overall, the switch-hitting catcher has hit .267 (4-for-15) with one home run, two RBIs, three runs scored and six walks.
During Thursday's 3-1 victory over Team USA, Santana went 2-for-4 and had a key at-bat in the D.R.'s two-run rally in the ninth inning. Facing Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, Santana chewed his way through an eight-pitch at-bat, fouling off four pitches. He eventually grounded out to second base, but the chopper moved Nelson Cruz from second to third base.
Erick Aybar followed with a go-ahead single that brought Cruz home and set off one of the Dominican Republic's wild on-field celebrations.
"They're into it. You can tell," Francona said. "I think the experience has probably been great for him."
The Dominican Republic is awaiting the winner of Friday's matchup between Team USA and Puerto Rico to play for seeding for the World Baseball Classic semifinals. Indians setup man Vinnie Pestano is currently with USA, while Indians infielder Mike Aviles and Minor League lefty Giovanni Soto are on Puerto Rico's roster.
Last season, the 26-year-old Santana hit .252 with 18 homers, 27 doubles, 72 runs, 76 RBIs and 91 walks in 143 games for Cleveland. He has spent much of the past two seasons as the Tribe's cleanup hitter, but will likely slide down some in the order now that players such as Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds are in the fold.
"I think it's going to be good for him and for us," Francona said. "It's easy to say to a kid, 'Hey kid, go run the pitching staff. And, oh by the way, you're hitting cleanup.' That was a necessity last year. I get that. I've been in that situation.
"But I think now we have the ability to back him up a little bit, and it not only gives our lineup more balance, but it takes a little bit of the burden off of him."
Francona said he was impressed early in camp by Santana's defense, especially the catcher's throws to second base. The manager also believes Santana is only getting started as an offensive weapon for the Indians.
"He has the ability to take a walk, and he's always dangerous," Francona said. "And I think his better offensive years are ahead of him."