Prospect Profile: Alex Santos

For every slam-dunk relief prospect like Francisco Rodriguez and Huston Street who turns into a star reliever at the major league level, there is a Gene Nelson and Brendan Donnelly, journeymen minor leaguers who develop later in their careers into solid major league relievers. Midland closer Alex Santos falls into the journeyman category. What remains to be seen is if he can find the same success later in his career that Nelson and Donnelly did.

Alex Santos seemed poised for a quick trip through the minor leagues when he became a professional in 2000. The University of Miami starter was originally drafted in 1998 by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third round. He decided not to sign with the Dodgers and returned to Miami, where he was the winning pitcher in the CWS championship game. He went 11-3 with a 3.10 ERA for the Hurricanes in 1999 and was drafted in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Santos signed with the Devil Rays as a starting pitcher. Through his first two years with the Tampa organization, Santos was effective, especially as a strike out pitcher. In 2001 – his first full professional season – Santos struck out 150 batters in 134.1 innings pitched for High-A Bakersfield. Santos continued that good pitching during the first part of 2002, striking out 105 batters in 95.1 innings for Bakersfield. Two-thirds of the way through the 2002 season, Santos was promoted to AA-Orlando.

Unfortunately for Santos, it was his return to the state of Florida where his promising career went off-track. In 31.2 innings for AA-Orlando that season, Santos allowed 29 runs in 31.2 innings pitched. His strike out ratio dropped from 10.00 K/9 to 3.98 K/9. That trend continued for Santos in 2003, as he struggled with an injured knee and posted a 6.02 ERA for Orlando.

After his dismal 2003 performance, the Devil Rays released Santos. Rather than give up on his baseball dream, Santos decided to head to the Independent Leagues. He began the 2004 season with the Sioux City Canaries of the Northern League. Santos made five starts for the Canaries, but was roughed up in all of them and was traded to Quebec of the Northeastern League. It was with Quebec that Santos made a career change that may have saved his baseball career.

When Santos arrived in Quebec, he was converted to closer and he flourished. The right-hander saved 22 games for Quebec and his strike out totals rose to unprecedented levels. Santos struck out 49 batters against only five walks in 34 innings pitched for Quebec.

After that performance, the A's signed Santos as a minor league free agent. He was sent to High-A Stockton to start the season, although it was soon clear that Santos was too advanced for the California League. Santos made 12 relief appearances for the Ports, allowing only one earned run in 16 innings pitched. He saved seven games and struck out a remarkable 20 batters, while walking only two.

Santos was promoted to AA-Midland on May 10 and has been finding AA a little easier this time around. In 13 games for the Rockhounds, Santos has racked up seven saves while posting a 0.60 ERA. He has whiffed 20 batters and has walked only four. In total, Santos has allowed only 23 baserunners in 31 innings pitched at both High-A and AA this season.

Santos has a lively fastball that is made even livelier by the fact that he is pitching in relief and not as a starter. He has good control and a decent slider and change-up. He was one of the best collegiate pitchers in the nation when he was at Miami, so there has never been a question about his natural ability. Santos will be 27 years old in August and has never made it past AA in his career. However, there have been a number of relievers who have made their major league debuts in their late-20s or early-30s and have been successful.

If Santos continues to show an ability to miss bats and keep runners off the bases, he should earn a promotion to AAA before the end of the season. The A's figure to have a few spots in their bullpen available in open competition during spring training next season and Santos could be in a position to compete for one of those slots with a strong finish to this year.

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