GLENDALE, Ariz. — One sure sign that Sergio Santos has officially arrived as a major-leaguer is the traffic around his locker this spring.
Simply put, there hasn’t been much.
At this time a year ago, Santos was beginning to attract international media attention as he began his rise from obscure minor-league shortstop to effective major-league relief pitcher.
“It definitely was a bit of a dream,” Santos said.
After seven forgettable seasons trying to make it to the big leagues as an infielder while barely batting his weight, the 27-year-old Santos gave pitching a try in 2009 and appeared to be an even worse case with a combined 0-3 record and 8.16 ERA in brief stops at Class A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte.
Somehow putting it all together and breaking camp with the White Sox last season, Santos made 56 appearances and went 2-2 with a 2.96 ERA and 1 save.
“You look at my numbers when I just became a pitcher and I had a 9.00 ERA or something in the minor leagues,” Santos said. “Then I get to the big leagues and get it down to 2.9(6) for the whole season. That’s better than I ever could have imagined.”
Blessed with a powerful throwing arm, Santos added to his repertoire and literally became an overnight sensation.
“It was just more the secondary pitches,” Santos said of his success. “The more I was able to establish my slider and changeup, just to show them to the hitters I could throw them effectively for strikes, that was a huge deal for me. It got them off my fastball.
“If I tried to just throw fastballs, I can’t do what (Matt) Thornton does, throw fastballs all the time and get people out. I mixed in my changeup and my slider and I’m lucky I was able to do that sooner than later.”
Santos didn’t get carried away with all the attention he received for his unlikely path to U.S. Cellular Field.
Instead, the 6-foor-2, 230-pound right-hander set a Sox record by opening the season with 12 straight scoreless appearances.
“It all worked out very well for Santos last year, unchartered stuff, stuff that nobody else has done before, I believe,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. “Everything could not have gone better for him. He had dynamite first year and now we’ve got to build on that.
“If he’s looking to have a career, first of all he’s got to have another good, solid season and grow from there. We need more strikes with all of his pitches; we need more consistency. We’d like to think that we’re going to be able to use him in even more prime-time situations. He’s a key guy because a bullpen is like a chain — each link has got to be strong.”
Santos is looking forward to the challenge.
“You can’t help but look back and reflect on everything that happened,” he said. “The year went better than I imagined by far. To me, I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve got my foot in the door.’ But there’s still more I have to do. I just kind of came into camp with that mindset.
“I had a good year but that was one year. I want to establish myself with another good year. That’s what has been pushing me to work harder. Can I back last year up with another good year?”
If he succeeds, Santos’ rags-to-riches story will almost be complete.
“Another good, solid season is going to give him a chance to have the career he’s looking for,” Cooper said. “And everything he was doing before, as far as being a shortstop, it’s out of the picture and it’s no longer a waste of time. Now he’s a pitcher.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.