CHICAGO—Drafted in the first round in 2002 as a shortstop, Sergio Santos worked his way down from highly regarded prospect to release candidate in six years. He's found new life as a potential set-up man or even closer.
Converted to a pitcher by the White Sox after failing to land an infield spot in Triple-A last year, Santos made 26 appearances in the system before flashing one of the best arms in the Arizona Fall League. His fastball hit 99 mph and sat in the mid-90s, better than everyone there except Nationals righthander Stephen Strasburg.
The Sox felt he would surely have been claimed in the Rule 5 draft, so they added him to the 40-man roster.
"He's got a power arm, the potential to have a power slider, great stuff," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said. "He's a conversion guy, and the conversion happened a little late. Who knows how it plays out?"
Santos, 26, was the Diamondbacks' first-rounder in 2002, but his performance started sliding when he reached Triple-A in 2005 and he never reversed the trend. He hit .228 between Triple-A stops with the Twins and Blue Jays in 2008 before signing with the White Sox.
Santos struck out 20 in 15 AFL innings but finished with a 6.14 ERA and 10 walks.
"Some days he's dominating," White Sox minor league pitching coordinator Keith Champion said. "Some days he's a little awkward. But you can't ignore someone who throws like him—92 to 98."
Santos' slider can be a strikeout pitch when he's dialed in. Champion says he has a surprisingly good "feel for pitching" given his inexperience.
That's good because the White Sox have to throw him into immediate contention for a bullpen spot, as he's out of options.
"We've got roster and options issues," Williams admitted. "Too bad this couldn't have been done when he had an option left."
• Miguel Negron, re-signed to be Charlotte's primary center fielder after hitting .270 there last year, was hitting .380/.482/.507 through 19 winter ball games in Puerto Rico.
• Righthander Clevelan Santeliz is pitching well in Venezuela. He was 4-0, 1.83 with 22 strikeouts in 20 innings. The Sox hope he won't arrive in spring training tired, as they believe he did in 2009.