Name: Sergio Santos
Coming into the 2005 season all the attention was on Santos' shoulder and head. The shoulder because of offseason surgery that had started affecting both his offense and defense, his head because the Diamondbacks were still negotiating with Stephen Drew. Since Santos and Drew played the same position, and since Santos was just coming off shoulder surgery, there was wide speculation that the Diamondbacks would start slowly converting Santos into a third baseman, just like A-Rod.
But that didn't happen last year. Santos played one game as a Designated Hitter, but every other appearance he made in Triple-A Tucson in 2005 was as a shortstop, and his manager, Chip Hale, was impressed.
"He played great defense in Tucson this past season, there were always questions about him as a shortstop, but this year he proved he can defend there on an everyday basis."
Batting and Power: Of course nobody gets drafted in the first round because of their glove, least of all Santos. Though there were not any questions about his defense when the Diamondbacks took him, the draw was the bat. Santos has a long swing, but his body projected as a power hitter, and he made the adjustment smoothly from metal to wood, posting a .272 average with nine homers in just 202 at bats his first season in Missoula. That was enough for the D'Backs to put him on the fast track, and he adapted well, jumping to Hi-A Lancaster and then Double-A El Paso in his second season.
It was there in El Paso all the way back in 2003 that Santos' shoulder began bothering him, and while he didn't complain much about it, and his struggles could easily have been due to the jump in levels, the biggest questions came when Santos went from eight homers in 341 at bats in Lancaster to just two in 137 at El Paso.
The Diamondbacks still liked his approach at the plate, and in 2004 he was back in El Paso, and showing more power than he had the previous season, but still something was wrong. The answer came during the second half when Santos' shoulder finally became so painful it was affecting his defense, and the Diamondbacks had to shut him down, despite a .282 average and 12 homers in 347 at bats. The surgery was necessary, but it might have been the reason the D'Backs were so anxious to draft Drew.
In 2005 Santos showed up to camp healthy, though still recovering from the offseason surgery. He hit just .171 in April, and the whispers started that perhaps he wouldn't recover. In May he started to find the stroke, hitting four homers and bringing the average up to a more respectable .247, and it was June where Santos really started to show he could be returning to form. he hit .287 during the month with four homers and 20 RBI. It was a strong sign, both for Santos' shoulder, and his head.
All that of course changed in July. Whether his slip, just a .202 average and zero homers, was a down month, or a month where his head was more focused on the fact that the D'Backs had finally signed Drew may never be known, but it was painful to watch.
"He just looked uncomfortable," a scout says, "his swing is usually so fluid, and then in July it just turned real mechanical, he was trying to hit everything out of the park, he looked tired in the field, he just didn't seem like the same player."
That July, coupled with the Drew's incredible start in Lancaster, probably sealed Santos' fate in the D'Backs organization. Despite coming back strong with a .278 average in August, Santos still failed to hit a home run in 54 games between the end up June and beginning of September, essentially negating his best tool. With Drew's emergence and uncertainty about whether or not Santos' power would return, the decision was made.
Speed and Baserunning: The Alex Rodriguez comparison's will continue in Toronto, because they are similar players. Both are big, strong guys who run surprisingly well. Though Santos' shoulder problems kept him from stealing many bases in the last two years, he has put up double digits in steals, and runs the bases aggressively. His all fields power meant that balls rattling around in the right field corner often turned into triples and going first to third was rarely the exception to the rule. A true five tool athlete, some have suggested that what Santos may need more than anything is a move up in the order, to the #2 hole, where he wouldn't need to hit for as much power, and his speed might be used more effectively.
Defense: The $20,000 question coming into this season was his defense at shortstop, and it was the one question he definitely answered. Arm strength has never been an issue, but the shoulder was making it difficult for him to get reach for balls, particularly in the hole. While he wasn't 100% at the plate in '05, he was pretty close to it in the field. After a horrific .771 fielding percentage in '04 he bounced back with a career high .953 fielding percentage in '05, showing increased range, focus, and a much smoother approach turning the double play. It bodes well for him in Toronto, where the field turf will get the ball to him much more quickly than the grass in Tucson did.
Projection: At FutureBacks we'll come right out and say it, Josh Byrnes needed to get more for Sergio. Though the key was unloading Troy Glaus (or more to the point his salary) and opening up room for Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy to both play, Santos will be a Major Leaguer, and a contributor. Reports coming in during the offseason said that he was working harder than ever to strengthen the shoulder, and if he comes back in 2006 with anything close to the stroke he was starting to show off the first half of 2003, he will be a force. A-Rod types don't come around often, and Santos certainly has the makings of being an A-Rod 'type.'
ETA: In the Diamondbacks system Santos' ETA might have been never, but the Blue Jays don't have a Drew. Santos will spend at least one more year in the minors in Toronto's system, likely at the Triple-A level, and since he won't turn 23 until mid way through the '06 season, there's no particular reason he shouldn't. If the power numbers explode (and we expect him to put up 20+ homers next season) he might force the Jays to reevaluate some things, and Byrnes could very easily have asked for more, and gotten it, for a player of this caliber. Expect Santos to break in with a cup up coffee in '06, but find a more permanent home, likely on a different club, in '07.