Dennis Santana is hardly the first young man from San Pedro de Macoris to sign a professional baseball contract with dreams of making the big leagues as a shortstop.
And he won’t be the first to eventually get there at another position.
In March 2013, Santana signed with the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old. But it took just 56 games in the Dominican Summer League, during which time he hit .198 and made 24 errors, to put an end to Santana’s infield career.
“At the beginning, it was difficult,” Santana said, to accept that he needed to move to the mound.
The idea didn’t come completely out of the blue, however. Just a month before signing with the Dodgers, Santana worked out for the Rays, who wanted to sign him as a righthanded pitcher.
“I said, ‘No chance. I want to play shortstop’ . . . (Later, the Dodgers) told me I can make the big leagues faster as a pitcher. I said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ “
“As the years went on, I started realizing that’s where I should have been in the first place.”
Santana has established himself as one of the better pitching prospects in the Dodgers’ deep system. The 21-year-old joined the 40-man roster in November after going 8-7, 4.11 with 129 strikeouts and 45 walks in 118.1 innings at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa.
Santana needs a good deal of refinement still. He made one key adjustment in 2017 at the suggestion of new director of player development Brandon Gomes. He moved from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side. The change allowed him to “throw more strikes” and work more effectively away from righthanded hitters.
Santana’s job now is to become more consistent.
“I need to work on my attitude in the game sometimes and be more focused—my emotions,” he said. “Sometimes, in the first inning I give up two runs. I come to the dugout and throw my glove and knock over everything.
“A lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t worry about this. Don’t worry about that. Control what you can control. You can only throw the ball. You can’t control the hitter or if somebody makes an error.’ “
** Assistant hitting coaches Tim Hyers and Shawn Wooten will not return to the Dodgers in 2018. Hyers left to become hitting coach on new Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s staff. In their places, the Dodgers have added former big leaguers Brant Brown and Luis Ortiz as assistant hitting coaches. Brown and Ortiz will work with hitters at both the major and minor league levels.