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Proving Them Wrong

by Josh Boyd
October 20, 2003

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Go ahead and doubt Sergio Santos. He thrives on criticism. He's been a high-profile prospect, rated among the best prep players in the country, since his sophomore season at Mater Dei High in Southern California. He listened to comparisons to the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and even Juan Gonzalez, and seemed a guaranteed lock for the top half of the first round in 2002.

Perhaps it was a case of overexposure, and maybe scouts were nitpicking, but leading up to the draft suddenly Santos wasn't driving the ball with authority. And scouts questioned whether he would maintain the quickness to stay at shortstop.

Santos' stock suffered, and as a result he slid to the bottom of the first round, where the Diamondbacks were pleasantly surprised to grab him with the 27th pick.

"The draft is a pretty tricky thing," Santos said. "I believed in myself and knew what I could do. All I was reading about in Baseball America, in reports or from scouts was that my stock was dropping. I disagreed. You know what, I am a better player. But that's how it goes. "I kind of took the 'let the chips fall where they may' attitude with this. As soon as I was drafted by the Diamondbacks, it was a big relief. My brothers sat me down and said, 'Look, we know you are better than the 27th pick, but don't go out and say the other teams messed up. Just keep it inside and let it motivate you.' "

After signing a $1.4 million bonus within a month of the draft, the hard-working Santos went out and started answering some of his critics with his debut performance for Rookie-level Missoula. The athletic 6-foot-3, 200-pounder finished third in the Pioneer League with a .520 slugging percentage and ranked fifth with nine home runs.

Defensively, he committed 28 errors in 54 games, a lofty total not uncommon for young shortstops in the lower levels. While doubts remain, the Diamondbacks' player-development staff was encouraged by his shortstop play. He has a big-time arm and shows plenty of lateral quickness, though he needs to improve his footwork, according to one National League scout.

"I've been hearing things since my freshman year in high school--'You're too big for shortstop, your feet are too slow'--but at each level I have gone to, I have made the adjustments," Santos said. "The way I look at it, I see myself as a shortstop and the Diamondbacks see me as a shortstop. As time goes on if I need to move I will. Right now when I hear that, it's added motivation.

"If you tell me I can't do it, I am going to prove it to you ten-fold."

The Diamondbacks are giving Santos every opportunity to prove himself, pushing him on an aggressive track towards the majors. He skipped low Class A and started the 2003 season as a 19-year-old in high Class A Lancaster. On paper Santos' first full season isn't an overwhelming one, though he hit .287-8-49 in 341 at-bats before Arizona challenged him with a promotion to Double-A El Paso for the final month and a half of the season.

As one of the youngest regulars in the Texas League, Santos managed to hold his own despite a .198 start in his first 28 games.

"It's a whole different ballgame (in Double-A)," he said. "Double-A pitchers come after you 1-2 or 2-2 with their best pitch. Each level you go up you kind of doubt yourself. 'Am I really ready for this level right now?' And that's the worst thing to get into. You have to have confidence. I was a little bit in awe and once you get over it, you go out there and let your skills take over." Santos finished the year hitting in nine of his last 10 games, raising his average more than 50 points to .255. He started slowly for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, hitting just .220-0-4 in 41 at-bats, but his main focus is improving his defense.

"I'm thinking more (in the field) . . . 'What kind of hitter is he?' . . . 'What kind of runner is he,' " Santos said. "You can't stop getting better in this game."

Contributing: Chris Sears (Chandler, Ariz.).

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