I remember when I went to see the Quakes in April because I was excited. I had just started the Dugout Blues podcast with Jared Massey (we’re just on an extended hiatus … promise) and we were all prepared to see Zach Lee pitch.
Well the week before I went down to Rancho Cucamonga, a Quakes game got rained out and there was a doubleheader, meaning the rotation got messed up. Instead of seeing Lee, we saw Angel Sanchez. That was fine. I had yet to see him in person and was happy for the opportunity.
Side Note: How much as he sucked in the California League this season? Holy Jesus.
Somehow the topic of seeing another game came up and Massey said, “Watch, we’ll get Andres Santiago or something.” I laughed. Little did I know that, all things being equal, I would have welcomed the opportunity to see Santiago pitch.
Santiago, 22, has been one of the most surprising Dodger prospects in the system this season, and his prowess on the mound earned him a late-season call-up to Double-A Chattanooga.
The Dodgers drafted Santiago out of Puerto Rico in the 16th round of the 2007 draft. Before this season, he had been pretty unremarkable in his professional career. He spent his first two seasons in the Gulf Coast League before spending the next two in the Arizona League. He the skipped Low-A completely and spent 2011 in the Cal League. He went 8-5 with a 5.03 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, and a gaudy 11.1 H/9 rate. Like I said, unremarkable.
This season, however, has been completely different.
He first caught my attention after his April 29 performance in which he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed two hits while striking out 11. Repeating the Cal League or not, that’s something that made me do a double-take. He then spent about a month on the disabled list a week after that performance before returning to the Quakes’ rotation. After that, it looked like he might be settling into his old ways again — three outings in which he allowed 19 earned runs in 13 innings — but he turned it around.
In his last six starts for the Quakes (July 3 through 31), he was fantastic: 1.76 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 4.6 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 2.0 BB/9, 10.5 K/9, 5.33 K/BB. Those numbers are not accumulated easily in the hitter’s haven, and before his promotion, his FIP sat at a tidy 3.06.
Aside from one blip — five runs allowed in 4 1/3 IP on Aug. 23 — he’s fared pretty well in Chattanooga, too.
There are a couple things that impress me most about Santiago. First, his increased strikeout rate. While he was able to get solid rates in the past (8.0, 7.4, 8.4 K/9 the last three seasons), he’s stepped up to another level this year. His 9.8 K/9 is second only to Matt Magill for best among starting pitchers in the system.
Additionally, his performance this season against left-handed batters might be the most promising. He actually pitches better against lefties than he does righties.
A reason for that split might be Santiago’s arsenal, which consists of a fastball, slider, and changeup. His fastball sits in the low-90s and can touch 94, while his slider is a weapon against right-handed hitters.
But after his 11-strikeout performance I mentioned earlier, he said it wasn’t his fastball or slider that did the trick for him.
“‘My changeup is the out pitch. I like to throw it with two strikes,’ he said. ‘I actually struck out a couple guys today with my slider, but my best pitch after the fastball is my changeup. If I can throw it for a strike, it’s a strikeout pitch.’”
Sounds like a guy the Dodgers are going to trade in a couple of months a la Rubby De La Rosa. Of course, he doesn’t have the triple-digit fastball De La Rosa has, but it’s nice to see he isn’t afraid to use his arsenal when necessary.
Whatever he’s doing this season, it’s encouraging. When I do my Top 50 prospects in the winter, he’ll be in there. Hell, I think he’s even a Top 30 prospect at this point.
Before the Dodgers traded Ethan Martin and Allen Webster, it was going to be hard for Santiago to crack the Lookouts rotation. Now, he’s probably their No. 2 or No. 3 starter behind Magill and Lee. All in all, he’s now a sleeper in this organization and he has a chance to make a name for himself.
Here’s hoping he does it.