MadFriars' Interview: Trae Santos

FORT WAYNE - In the long history of professional baseball third baseman John Hattig, who played in 13 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006, is the only native of Guam ever to play in the major leagues.

TinCaps’ first baseman Trae Santos, who was drafted in the seventeenth round by the Padres in the 2013 draft, goal is to become the second. This year the former Troy State star reported to spring in the best shape of his life and won a full-season job after two disappointing seasons with short-season Eugene.

In a story he told the local Eugene ABC affiliate KEZITV in 2013, Santos led the Guam all-stars to the Little League World Series at 12. The next year, his parents decided that the best opportunity for Trae to pursue his baseball dreams was on the mainland, not in Guam, even if it mean separating the family to do so.

“My parents sacrificed so much for me,” said Santos to KEZITV. “My Dad had a good job as a firefighter, so he stayed behind while my Mom and I moved to Alabama.”

Besides picking up a faint southern drawl, Santos was a two-time Louisville Slugger All-American in high school. At Northwest Florida State Junior College, he was all-conference as a designated hitter, second team at first base and 4-0 on the mound with a 2.01 ERA.

This year he is starting to resemble the player that he was a Troy University in Alabama where he hit .300/.382/.612 with 18 home runs in his lone year. After a slow April, the native of Barrigada, Guam rebounded with a big May that saw him hit .286/.350/.533. His seven home runs so far have tied how many he it in two seasons with Eugene and he is third in the Midwest League with 23 extra-base hits.

One other interesting note on the Guam angle. This season in the Midwest League, Lansing Lugnuts, the Blue Jays’ affiliate, has a pitcher named Sean Reid-Foley, the #10 prospect in their system according to Baseball America, who was also born in Guam while his father was serving with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Foley and Santos have squared off three times so far this season, with Trae 0-2, with three walks in what may be the only Guam vs. Guan action in the history of the game.

You look like you are in great shape. What did you do to improve yourself physically during the off-season?

Trae Santos: Basically I just made a commitment to myself after last year. I wasn’t happy how last season ended and really tried to dedicate the off-season to just reshaping my body, reporting to spring training in the best shape I could be and try to win a job on a full-season team.

How did you do it?

Trae Santos: I pretty much kept the same routine from October 15 to March 13, the day I left for spring training. I would wake up at four in the morning, eat some breakfast and then me and my Dad would go hunt.

We would hike in about three miles to our spot and stay there until about noon. Then we would hike back with all of our gear. I would get some lunch, then go work out with my trainer - and that could be anywhere between 90 minutes to three hours if it was leg day. Get something to eat and then do baseball stuff until it got dark.

Then start it all over again the next day.

That is a bit of a different story.

Trae Santos: [laughs] It is. The big thing was it was a way to mix it up some and still getting me to do what I needed to do.

I know it made a huge impact on my legs, I feel a lot stronger and hopefully it will carry on throughout the season.

Your swing also changed some too.

Trae Santos: I’ve been ironing out some kinks. When I reported to spring training our hitting coordinator Luis Ortiz challenged me to be the type of hitter I was when they drafted me.

I tried to revert back to those mechanics and that approach. It worked well for me in the spring but when I got here it wasn’t working for me. So I changed it up a bit and now I’m starting to feel good again.

I kind of brought myself back to the way I used to hit in junior college, put the ball in play more and get a better contact percentage. As a first baseman I need to drive in runs and now that my body is stronger the ball will still travel pretty far when I make contact.

You had sporadic playing time at Eugene. It must help you put less pressure on yourself knowing that you are going to be in the lineup everyday.

Trae Santos: All of us put pressure on ourselves because we are baseball players and want to compete, But to some degree it does help. I know that I have an opportunity to improve and help out my team.

As someone who didn’t get the opportunity to play consistently last year you must really appreciate it.

Trae Santos: Sure, not having the normal playing time I did from my first year - I was about 50 or 60 at-bats short - so yes, I understand and value it more.

What has been the biggest difference between the Midwest and the Northwest Leagues?

Trae Santos: Other than the playing schedule, it’s pretty similar. The atmosphere is a little better in terms of more fans. The pitching is a little better, because they have more control. It is easier to stay in the zone.

Mainly things are much more consistent, pitchers don’t miss as much and you don’t have as many chances to hit mistakes.

You still get to pitch some. Do you still enjoy it?

Trae Santos: [laughs] Yes, I get to pitch a little bit. I wish I didn’t have to do it because it usually means we are getting beat pretty good. But it was what I mainly did before I got hurt in college; so it’s fun to relive those memories.

What is the biggest part of your game that you are looking to improve this year?

Trae Santos: Just keep refining my approach. Knowing that I can always get better and capitalize my opportunities when runners are on base. I know I have left a lot of guys on so far this year and that needs to improve.

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