Sergio Santos stopped hitting the heat, so he decided to throw it instead. A 6-3, 240 pound infielder who Baseball America rated as the 37th-best prospect in the game prior to 2004 and number 61 prior to 2005, Santos was supposed to emerge as a middle-of-the-order thumper for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was part of, as BA put it in 2005, “the new breed of shortstop-big, strong and athletic.”
Unfortunately, Santos’ bat flat lined in the upper levels of the minors and he slid down the defensive spectrum, a lethal combination. Shipped to Toronto along with Troy Glaus as part of a December 2005 trade that landed Orlando Hudson in the desert, Santos’ prospect stock plummeted. He went from ranking in BA’s top 100 to not even rating as one of the Blue Jays’ top 30 farm talents before the 2008 season. Santos flailed in Minnesota’s system as well, and compiled a .226/.268/.332 triple-slash in more than 1,500 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level.
In January of 2009, Santos inked a minor league deal with the White Sox. The Pale Hose actually traded him to the Giants in March, but Chicago re-acquired Santos in April and sent him to extended spring training to begin the shift from light-hitting infielder to flame-throwing reliever. He was scuffling at the plate and had outgrown the middle infield, but Santos had long been praised for his Howitzer arm strength.
In 28.2 innings spread across four different minor league levels, the righty whiffed 9.4 batters per nine frames but showed his lack of experience with 6.4 BB/9 and 26 runs allowed. In the Arizona Fall League, Santos tossed 14.2 rocky innings, with lots of whiffs (20), walks (10) and runs (11). However, he impressed by hitting the low-to-mid-90’s with his fastball, while also displaying a hard slider and a tumbling changeup.
|Uh, Sergio, you won’t be needing that bat. (Icon/SMI)|
Out of minor league options entering 2010, Santos managed to make the big league roster out of spring training. Manager Ozzie Guillen has been careful to work the 26-year-old in low-pressure spots: Santos’ Leverage Index, which measures the importance of a situation based on inning, score and base-out state, is 0.56. The average LI is one, so Santos’ appearances have come when the outcome of the game is largely determined.
He’s showing late-inning stuff, though. Santos hasn’t been 0.73 ERA-level good, but he has posted rates of 11.68 K/9 and 3.65 BB/9, with a 45.8 percent ground ball rate and a 2.62 xFIP. It’s only 12.1 innings, but Santos is succeeding with 95-96 MPH heat, mid-80’s breaking stuff and a hard changeup. His swinging strike rate is 14.4 percent (the average for relievers is between 9-10 percent), and his 65 percent contact rate is fourth-lowest among MLB relievers logging at least 10 innings pitched.
It’s early, but Santos’ quick transition to relief is going incredibly well. If he continues to miss bats and keeps his control in check, Santos could move into a more prominent role in the South Side ‘pen.