Position: Third Base
Santo joined the Tigers as an amateur free agent out of his native Dominican Republic in June 2003, and jumped right into game action with the Dominican Summer League Tigers that summer. Through 60 games as a teenager, De Leon notched a .241/.283/.317 line; displaying just how raw he was. Despite his initial struggles, the Tigers brought him stateside in 2004, where he began to flash the skills that earned him his professional chance. A .273/.308/.396 line was a marked improvement in his first taste of baseball in the States. Another year in the GCL saw his power begin to come to life, as he slugged six doubles and 4 home runs in only 33 games.
The Tigers promoted Santo to Oneonta of the New York-Penn League in 2006, where he struggled somewhat with the league's more advanced pitchers. Through 41 games, De Leon knocked 11 doubles, and drove in 21 runs for the O-Tigers. This season, Santo made his full-season debut with the West Michigan Whitecaps, where he is off to a solid start; logging a promising .302/.326/.349 start.
Santo has taken a bit of time to develop, as he has slowly moved from an extremely raw player with no definable position, to one who looks as though he could handle third base long term. His actions at third are solid, and he covers plenty of ground with his quick feet and lanky frame. His hands could stand to get a little softer, but he's improving with increased experience. Instinctually, he understands defensive positioning, and gets great reads off the bat. His arm is his best defensive attribute, as Manager Tom Brookens raved about the quality of his arm. Opposing coaches in the Midwest League also acknowledged his arm strength, referencing his tremendous carry across the diamond; often stating he has a "Major League caliber arm" from third base.
Offensively, there are parts of his game that are quite advanced and others that need substantial improvement. He is very strong, but has yet to see that strength translate to games. He can turn on pitches and rip them to left, but he is much more comfortable driving balls to all fields. His swing is sound, with a bit of a downward angle. He lets the ball get deep in the strike zone, before snapping the bat through the hitting zone. Santo has a free swinging mentality at the plate, which can lead to high strikeout totals, and very few walks. If he can begin to work counts a bit more, he could get more pitches he can drive; and fans may begin to see some game power from him down the line.
De Leon was praised for his work ethic and how quickly he catches on to new concepts. He understands the game well, and can apply new elements to his game rapidly; often with significant success. He is upbeat and eager to get on the field, and has demonstrated the ability to overcome adversity in the past.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A
Santo has yet to experience any significant injuries. His frame is still filling out, which could allow him to add some muscle down the line; possibly decreasing some of his speed and flexibility. Any workout regimen should try to keep from bulking him up; helping him to continue avoiding injuries in future seasons.
Despite being a touch old for the Midwest League, Santo isn't that far behind many of his peers. He got a late start on professional baseball, not signing until he was 19-years old. He has enough raw tools that he could become a threat in all phases of the game; but he must refine some small things to bring all his skills to light.
His numbers – like many of his Whitecaps teammates – are likely to be stunted by his home park, but by making strides in contact rates and pitch recognition would signify huge progress for him in 2007. With his defensive potential, even modest offensive performances will allow him to continue moving up the ladder. The Tigers are looking for some nice strides from De Leon this season, and are hopeful that he may become a bit of a sleeper in the system.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.