De Los Santos bringing the heat

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Ovispo De Los Santos opened the 2009 AZL season as a little-known pitcher out of the Dominican Republic, but he impressed onlookers with his seemingly effortless fastball and strong results. Lone Star Dugout features the 21-year-old reliever.

Ovispo De Los Santos just wrapped up his fourth season of professional baseball, and it was just the first year he pitched full-time in the U.S.

Despite the setbacks he has encountered along the way, the pitcher is still only 21-years-old and he is armed with one of the system's most powerful fastballs. De Los Santos is developing into a relief prospect worth keeping an eye on.

The right-hander initially signed with the Rangers in April of 2006, and he debuted with the Dominican Summer League Rangers later that season, posting a 7.13 earned-run average in 24.0 innings.

At the time he signed, De Los Santos says his fastball sat around 92 mph, reaching the mid-90s on occasion. But he walked 18 batters and plunked seven more in those 24 innings.

De Los Santos spent the next season as a starter in the DSL, and he showed marked improvement. The right-hander went 4-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 62.2 innings, walking just 14 and fanning 53.

After two seasons in his native Dominican Republic, the Rangers felt De Los Santos was prepared for the rookie-level Arizona League in 2008.

Unfortunately, his arm didn't agree.

De Los Santos logged just 8.1 innings in six relief appearances for the AZL Rangers. He surrendered seven runs on 12 hits, walking five and striking out 10. Then he was shut down for the remainder of the season.

"When the season started," De Los Santos explained through a translator, "I had an inflamed shoulder. So they rested me."

Though the injury didn't require surgery, he didn't fully recover until the very beginning of 2009 Spring Training.

"I started feeling better in March of this year," he said. "That's when my shoulder was completely healthy again."

Over the offseason, De Los Santos spent nearly every day at the Rangers' first-class academy in his native Dominican Republic. Even without throwing a baseball, De Los Santos says he was able to get some work in.

"Every day, I would wake up at six in the morning," said the prospect. "I would do my workout and do my running until ten. And then in the early afternoon, I started working out with the team."

The hard work and rest appears to be paying off in a big way.

De Los Santos recently finished off a fully healthy season in the AZL Rangers' bullpen, going 3-2 with a 3.45 earned-run average in 28.2 innings. He surrendered 24 hits while walking seven and striking out 22.

Control was hardly a problem for De Los Santos this summer, but he was inconsistent at times. For the most part, the righty was nearly unhittable. However, when he got hit, he got hit hard, as shown by two mid-August outings where he combined to yield eight earned runs in just 3.1 combined innings.

De Los Santos says he sometimes falls into bad habits mechanically, pulling his release point out of whack.

"I've been working with my release point and my front side—getting the ball to the target," he explained. "My control, for the most part, has always been good. But sometimes I tend to dive my front shoulder down and I can lose command of the strike zone when I do that."

The hurler works off his power fastball, which sits around 94-96 mph and reaches higher at times.

"I have a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup," said De Los Santos. "I feel my best pitch is my fastball. It can sometimes reach the upper-90s. I have touched 98 a couple of times. I feel my second-best pitch is the changeup, and then the curveball."

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound De Los Santos flashes a promising changeup, but he struggled to get his breaking ball over the plate this season.

"I like to throw my fastball a lot," he said, "but when I feel like I need to throw my curveball to keep hitters off-balance, I will. But not too much because I'm still working on it and learning how to throw it for strikes."

While the offspeed stuff clearly remains a work-in-progress, De Los Santos' hard work over the last few years has given him ‘easy heat,' with what appears to be an effortless upper-90s fastball.

"Every day is a new day and I like to work hard every single day," he said. "I always want to keep up with my conditioning. I feel like my legs are my best asset to throw the ball hard, so I try to keep in good shape."

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