Who: Sergio Santos, No. 21. Right-handed relief pitcher. 6’2”, 230 LBS. 28 years old.
Provenance: Bellflower, California. Drafted as a high school senior by Arizona in the first round (27th overall) of the 2002 draft. Acquired by the Blue Jays on December 6, 2011, for minor-leaguer Nestor Molina.
In Another Life: Was ranked the #37 prospect in the game by Baseball America in 2004 as a shortstop in the Diamondbacks’ system. Traded to Toronto as part of the Troy Glaus trade in December of 2005. Spent two seasons and a few months with Jays before being selected off waivers by the Twins.
Contract Status: Signed three-year, $8.25 million extension with the White Sox in September of 2011. Deal also includes three club options for the years 2015 through 2017, with a $750,000 buyout on each.
Career Stats: 3.29 ERA and 1.296 WHIP in 119 relief outings over two seasons with the White Sox. In 115.0 innings pitched, has struck out 148 batters (11.6 K/ 9), walked 55 (4.3 BB/9). 31 saves.
2011 Stats: 3.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 92 strikeouts (13.1 K/9) and 29 walks in 63 innings. 30 saves.
Looking Back: It doesn’t feel like all that long ago that we were watching Sergio Santos take ground balls at third base for the then-SkyChiefs of Syracuse. Our impression of him back then was that we was an impressive physical specimen, but he was not much of a bat, even against some fairly tepid Triple-A pitching.
So it was an odd bit of news two years ago when we started to see his name listed among the depth arms in the White Sox system. It was more of a curiosity until we got out first look at his 2009 minor league numbers, and saw the impressive strikeout totals he posted as he rocketed through the White Sox system. In that season, Santos leapt through four levels in 26 games, and while his cumulative ERA was 8.16, he showed enough of an ability to miss bats to make him an intriguing project.
His ascent to the White Sox in 2010 and subsequent move to the closer role last season followed as he began to find enough control over his pitches to make himself an imposing late game option. Santos averages north of 95 M.P.H. with his fastball, and mixes in a hard slider that elicits futile swings, along with the occasional changeup.
All of which makes it rather strange that the White Sox would ship him out of town after signing him to a very club-friendly deal that could have wrapped him up for six seasons.
Looking Forward: Santos enters the season as the undisputed closer, marking the first time since B.J. Ryan’s career-ending implosion that the Jays have had such clarity about the role in March. And given the unsatisfactory performances of the bullpen last year and the season before, Santos will find himself pitching before a fanbase with little or no tolerance for failure from someone in that vaunted role.
Having had a chance to see Santos this weekend, we wondered if those fans are ready to see a pitcher who is still somewhat raw. With a walk rate over four per nine innings, Santos will launch some of those mighty throws into the dirt and on to the backstop with the game on the line. He’s a power arm, and will throw harder than any Blue Jay closer since Billy Koch, but it won’t always be with pinpoint accuracy.
2012 Expectations: It seems like a bit too much to ask for Santos to repeat last season’s strikeout bonanza, and against patient teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, it will take more than stuff to get through closing assignments. Still, if he can post a K/9 in the range of nine or above, and keep his walks per nine below four, the Jays will have found that elusive bullpen ace.
And if it plays out that well, Santos could be among the most exciting additions to the franchise in some time.