Long Road to the Show Finally Ends for Sergio Santos
With enough twists and turns to make Stephen King proud, the long, arduous road to the major leagues has reached its climax for former number one pick Sergio Santos. On Tuesday, during an interview with TV broadcasters Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone, Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said Santos has “all but secured” the Chisox’ final bullpen spot. What makes the decision even more rewarding for Santos is he’s entering his ninth season as a pro, but just his second as a pitcher.
The journey for Santos began way back in June, 2002, when the 6’3” 190 pounder was selected in the first round (27th overall) by the defending World Series Champion Arizona Diamondbacks. A shortstop out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, the Dbacks signed Santos to a $1.425 million dollar signing bonus and shipped him off to Missoula, the Diamondbacks’ Rookie League franchise where he hit .272/9/37 in 54 games, not a bad showing for an eighteen year old. Despite 28 errors that first season, the Dbacks were convinced Santos would be a middle of the order hitter and their shortstop of the future by 2005, making him a major league regular at age 21.
Funny thing about first rounders, though, you don’t always get what you pay for. Santos, despite a plus arm and serviceable tools in other areas, never got untracked; he never had a full season of less than twenty errors and never showed the ability to make consistent contact. His career highs in batting average and on base percentage both came in 2003, Santos’ first full season as a pro, spent in the hitter happy California League.
Seemingly frustrated at slow pace Santos was developing, the Dbacks reached back into the draft again for a first round shortstop prospect, picking up Florida State All American Stephen Drew in 2004. Santos responded by going .238/12/68 in 2005, with a .288 OBP in 139 games in yet another hitting environment, the Pacific Coast League.
Having had enough by this point, the Diamondbacks shipped Santos along with Troy Glaus to the Toronto Blue Jays in December, 2005 in the deal which netted them second baseman Orlando Hudson and swingman Miguel Batista.
After an inauspicious two years in the Blue Jays system between Double A New Hampshire (113 games) and Triple A Syracuse (141 games) in which Santos posted combined splits of .229/25/104 with an OBP of .282, the Jays released Santos in May, 2008. Picked up by the Minnesota Twins, Santos hit .242/5/43 with a .279 OBP and was again shown the door.
Santos hit bottom during spring training, 2009. Signed to a minor league deal with the White Sox, he was traded to the Giants near the end of March and promptly released after failing his physical. The White Sox called him, and intrigued by his arm strength, ran the possibility of becoming a pitcher to Santos. Initially resistant, Santos eventually gave in; possibly realizing his career might otherwise be over.
On paper, the four minor league stops Santos made in 2009 don’t look all that impressive, (0-3, 8.16 ERA, .316 OBA) although he did improve as the season wore on and he gained more experience on the mound.
Sent to the Arizona Fall League, the pitching button seemed to switch on for Santos. He struggled with his control, walking ten batters in 14.2 innings but striking out 20 and being unscored upon in his last four outings. Santos led the AFL in fastball strike percentage and finished second to Stephen Strasburg in peak velocity (99) and average velocity (96). Santos showed continuous improvement throughout the AFL with all his pitches, which includes a potentially plus slider and a still inconsistent changeup.
Fearing they would lose him to the Rule V draft, the White Sox added Santos to the 40 man roster following the AFL season. Santos is also out of options, although, as Cooper pointed out, “his option status plays no role in our decision.” Cooper followed up by saying, “he has the stuff to be a late inning set-up guy, even a potential closer.” Which is ironic as incumbent closer Bobby Jenks’ contract expires following the 2010 season.
Stories like this are what baseball is all about. Too often we get caught up in the media frenzy surrounding guys like Aroldis Chapman and Bryce Harper, guys who have yet to do a damn thing and certainly don’t warrant the attention they are receiving. I have news for you all, Chapman’s not the only guy who has hit 100 and Harper isn’t the only high school kid who’s piped one 500 feet with an aluminum bat two thousand feet above sea level.
The guys we should be paying attention to are the guys who worked their asses off for years, riding buses instead of flying charters; playing on crap fields and eating crap food just so they can have one taste of the big league life, guys like Adam Hyzdu and Bobby Scales and Chris Coste.
We can now add Sergio Santos to that list.