Low Class A Report

De los Santos makes a name for himself




ROME, Ga.—You are excused if you don't know who Fautino de los Santos is. Don't worry, your prospect watcher credentials won't be revoked. After all, de los Santos doesn't even appear in the White Sox media guide this year. But once you see him pitch, you are not likely to forget the 20-year-old Dominican righthander.

MIDWEST HARVEST

• Beloit and Dayton have already reserved their spots in the postseason. Both teams went 44-26 in the first half to clinch a playoff spot. The Snappers were led by righthander Jeff Manship, who went 7-1, 1.49 in 73 innings with 74 strikeouts and eight walks.

• Dayton shortstop Chris Valaika has established himself as a No. 3 hitter, as he led the team by going .318/.356/.500. Righthander Sean Watson went 5-2, 1.88 in 72 innings.

• The Eastern Division brought out the sticks in the all-star game that was held in Geneva, Ill., home of Kane County. West Michigan outfielder Deik Scram took the MVP honors, going 1-for-2 with two runs scored. Lefthander Clayton Kershaw picked up the victory after pitching one inning allowing one home run and striking out two.

• Kershaw, Clinton third baseman John Whittleman and West Michigan outfielder Gorkys Hernandez will represent the Midwest League at the Futures Game.

SALLYMANDERS

• Starting pitching vaulted Augusta to a first place finish in the Southern Division, as five GreenJackets combined to go 39-8 in the first half. Henry Sosa's 6-0, 0.73 performance was rewarded with a promotion to high class A San Jose at the break. Augusta also won 15 of its last 18 games before the all-star game in Rome.

West Virginia also clinched a berth going 48-20 in the North. Righthander Jeremy Jeffress went 3-0, 1.45 in 19 innings and outfielder Charlie Fermaint is batting .351/.385/.622 after being demoted from high class A Breavard County.

• Charleston third baseman and South all-star Mitch Hilligoss went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI to win the MVP trophy, but the North prevailed with a 3-1 victory led by Greensboro second baseman Chris Coghlan. Coghlan, who was selected to the Futures Game roster just two days later, went 1-for-3 with an RBI double and a run scored. "It's amazing to think, all those things in one week," Coghlan said of playing in the all-star game and making the Futures roster. "I was able to look up the team and there's a couple guys I played college with and summer."

• Lakewood second baseman Adrian Cardenas and Coghlan will represent the South Atlantic League at the Futures Game. Cardenas was also Baseball America's 2006 High School Player of the Year.

• You've all heard the old cliche that "this player looks like a bat boy." In the case of Kris Medlen, it's really true. While Medlen isn't physically imposing at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, his arm is intimidating. Medlen's fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range, but his curveball is his calling card. Medlen struck out both batters he faced in the all-star game with the curveball. His strikeout of Greensboro's Logan Morrison was especially impressive, as he fell behind in the count, but demonstrated his ability to throw his curveball for strikes, dropping a 3-1 hammer over to work the count full. After Morrison fouled off a couple of fastballs, Medlen went back to the curveball, leaving Morrison helpless for his second strikeout.

Hilligoss' biggest competition for the MVP award may have come from another teammate on the losing South team.

Columbus center fielder Desmond Jennings went 2-for-4 with a run scored, while showing off his impressive speed. He stole third with a great jump in the fifth inning and played a solid center field. The jump was a sneak peek at what Jennings is working on. He can steal bags right now purely because of his 80 speed (on the 20-80 scouting scale), but he knows that he needs to get better jumps as he moves up the ladder. And even in the South Atlantic League, Jennings said the pitchers do a better job of holding runners. "In the Appalachian League I was going on speed," Jennings said.
There are several reasons de los Santos stands out. There's the 92-94 mph fastball with good life and the slurvy breaking ball that shows potential to be an out pitch down the road. Add in the long arms and solid pitcher's frame and it's clear that the White Sox have found something.

The rest of the baseball world will get a chance to see what the White Sox discovered when de los Santos becomes one of the younger members of the World team for this year's Futures Game. What they'll find out is something South Atlantic League hitters have already learned: De los Santos may be a little raw, but his stuff is exceptional.

"He's popped on the radar of a lot of people," Kannapolis pitching coach Larry Owens said. "He's shown a lot of aptitude. He's aware of what he needs to work on. He's working on it and he's had some pretty quick results."

Nearly Unhittable

De los Santos was 5-2, 2.71 with 82 strikeouts and 30 walks in his first 70 innings. But the most impressive stats were his 39 hits allowed. He'd held batters to a .164 average and allowed just 12 extra-base hits all year.

Don't feel too bad if you didn't recognize the name. Kannapolis manager Chris Jones admits that when he first saw the righthander in spring training, he never envisioned that he would turn into the Intimidators' most consistent starter.

"When I saw him in spring training, I thought he was a Double-A pitcher," he said.

It was the combination of de los Santos' ability to work a live fastball in and out of the zone, combined with a steady confidence on the mound that left Jones thinking he was looking at a vet, not a 20-year-old who was in his first season in the U.S.

"He has that air about him," Owens said. "He's not an arrogant kid. He's a fun person to be around. He loves coming to the ballpark and loves having fun. But when he's pitching he's not smiling out there. It's not too much (arrogance), but you know he's out there to get outs."

While most of the rest of the baseball world didn't know about de los Santos until recently, White Sox pitching coordinator Kirk Champion did. De los Santos was one of a number of pitchers he wanted to see when traveling down to the White Sox' Dominican academy last summer. De los Santos was working through a 3-3, 1.86 season in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. Champion quickly saw enough potential to recommend that the White Sox bring him to the U.S. for instructional league. Thanks to his performance there, the White Sox started mulling over the idea of promoting de los Santos all the way to the full-season South Atlantic League, a rare leap for a pitcher whose only experience had come in the DSL.

"It's a big jump from the DSL to the South Atlantic League," Champion said. "But it was just a situation where he clearly looked like he would be able to compete stuff wise."

Fautino Not Faustino

Don't feel too bad if you looked at the Futures Game roster and wonder who this Fautino de los Santos guy was. If you look at the official stats for the South Atlantic League, they've listed him as Faustino de los Santos all season.

Owens admits he hadn't heard of him before being hired as the Kannapolis pitching coach. When he first saw de los Santos in spring training, he quickly noticed that he would have some work to do. Sure, the stuff was there, but de los Santos had trouble hitting his spots. But de los Santos demonstrated that he's a quick learner. Within a couple of weeks, he was doing a much better job of finishing toward home plate instead of tailing off to the first base side in his follow through. When he follows through properly, he can work his fastball to both sides of the plate.

"(The follow through) improved his other pitches as well and improved his breaking ball tremendously," Owens said.

That breaking ball is still erratic in form, but not in results. Some nights it's a sharp-breaking downer curveball, but at other times it's more a sweeping slider. Whichever pitch shows up on a given night has enough depth and break to give hitters problems. He's also working on a sinker to pair with his live fastball.

His changeup is further away as he's struggling to get the separation in velocity that it needs to be a weapon, although he's throwing a couple in every start as he tries to refine it. Right now it's too hard, coming in at 84-86 mph, which is not enough to throw off a hitter's timing.

But there is plenty of time for de los Santos to develop the change. He's already showed that he can thrive in full-season ball in his first season in the U.S. He's already thrown a scoreless inning at the South Atlantic League all-star game and now he's going to get a chance to show off his stuff on the much bigger stage of the Futures Game.

And when it's over, everyone will know who de los Santos is.