March 14, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg
*Update (5/30) - de los Santos will undergo Tommy John Surgery and will be out at least a year. Get my take on his injury here
As Fautino de los Santos continued to put up fantastic numbers, slowly but surely his name recogntion grew. However, for much of 2007, de los Santos was an unknown outside of the Chicago White Sox organization. Here is a pitching prospect with excellent numbers to go along with excellent stuff, and nobody had a clue as to who this guy was entering the year.
This isn't the case anymore, as de los Santos has popped up on almost every top prospect list released over the offseason and also found himself in the middle of a blockbuster deal to the Oakland Athletics for Nick Swisher.
The reason de los Santos was an unknown commodity was because this was his first year in the United States. The 21 year old pitcher came over from the Dominican Republican and quickly began blowing away hitters at low-A Kannapolis in the Sally League. I want to examine de los Santos' mechanics, stuff, and numbers to get an idea of what we should expect out of him in the future.
Below is a clip of de los Santos in last year's Future's Game. The pitch is a 94 mph fastball thrown for a strike that moves left to right.
Tempo is essentially how fast a pitcher is from the point where his knee reaches its upper most point (and begins falling) all the way to the point where the pitcher releases the pitch. You can measure tempo in frames. The faster the better. The benefit is that you get more energy/momentum toward home plate. De los Santos has a tempo around 23 or 24 frames, which is considered pretty fast.
Starting with his hand break (which you can see in the original clip), he does a good job of breaking his hands late. This makes the ball a bit tougher to pick up out of his hand. A late hand break is also a factor for generating a lot of arm speed.
Above is a clip of de los Santos' full arm action. He doesn't have the *shortest* arm action in the world, but there is a lot to like here.
1. Elbow picks up the ball - the elbow should pick up the ball, not the other way around. A way to check for this is by drawing a straight line from the elbow to the ball in hand. If a straight line can't be drawn, then they are letting the ball pick up the elbow. When the ball picks up the elbow, the pitcher is placing unneeded stress on the arm.
2. Arm circle is uninterrupted, free of any hitch - arm action is in a sense, efficient. Ideally, you don't want any loss of momentum in a pitcher's arm action and I can't detect much, if any, loss of momentum in de los Santos' arm action.
3. Scap loading - in the clip I highlighted frames 6, 7, and 8 because this is the key sequence of his scap load.
As his arm is in motion, he loads up horizontally (toward first base). He is essentially loading his shoulder, and then subsequently unloading it as he steps into foot plant. The scap load is what gives de los Santos much of his arm speed. Better arm speed = better velocity.
When a pitcher "loads the scap", we need to ask if they are:
1. Efficienty loading the arm
2. Minimizing injury risk
It is #2 that I am concerned about with de los Santos.
Is the elbow above the shoulder? Difficult to tell, but it looks like it could be and a general rule is that when the elbow is brought above shoulder's height, the risk for injury is heightened by putting too much stress on the shoulder. However, if his elbow is above shoulder's height, it isn't by very much. And he also has a clean and pretty efficient elbow rotation into release.
There are two things he does well with his lower body.
1. The step over move - another velocity generator. The lines in the clip show how it looks like he is stepping over an imaginary object into foot plan.
2. Seperation between his torso and hips - see frame 8. As he steps into foot plant, his lower body helps his upper body uncoil toward home plate, bringing the arm with it.
This is an area where de los Santos needs work. Ideally, you want the glove to firm up as the front shoulder is opening. This helps with a pitcher's control and helps limit wear and tear on a pitcher's shoulder. You also want to have the glove out in front of your chest instead of tucking it to your side. A pitcher can get better extension and upperbody tilt by keeping the glove out in front, which I'll get more into later.
In the animation above, I want to focus on the lead arm. The shoulder is a little open, the glove is down near his belt-buckle. He does "firm up", but is a little late in doing so.
The clip to the right gives you a better angle of de los Santos firming his
glove up (frame 6). However, his finish is a little abrupt. I would like to see him achieve a better upperbody tilt by getting more out in front and keeping that glove firm out in front of his chest.
The benefits are that his explosive fastball will look even faster and he will give his arm more room to decelerate.
De los Santos has average command, but solid control. His command can improve by keeping that lead from getting away from his body and by firming up his glove just a tad earlier.
De los Santos has a three pitch reprtoire that is headlined by two plus pitches:
1. Fastball - he really has two fastballs...one moves horizontally and sits comfortably at 93 mph, but can hit 95, while the other has more movement vertically, and sits between 94 and 96. Both have good movement. The only question is how well de los Santos can command his fastball. He can control his fastball, but placing the pitch in the spot he wants on a consistent basis is the only question. His fastball can striaghten out when he tries to overthrow.
Grade: 60 - 65
2. Slider - his slider is more like a slurve, as it doesn't have the typical side-to-side movement a slider entails. The pitch comes out of de los Santos' hand looking like a fastball and then sharply breaks as it reaches home plate. As a result, hitters have their timing thrown off because they are fooled by how hard the pitch looks coming out of de los Santos' hand. You can see this in the animation below.
De los Santos can effectively back door his slider against lefties and actually commands the pitch about as well as his fastball. It typically sits in the 81 - 84 mph range.
Grade: 55 - 60+
His change-up is presently a below average pitch, but he hasn't been throwing it for very long. To get away from being labeled a two-pitch reliever, he needs to make some progress with his change-up next year.
A - 97.7 IP, 11.15 K/9 (31.5 K%), 3.32 BB/9 (9.4 BB%), .46 HR/9 (4 HR/Air%), 4.52 H/9 (.214 BABIP), 45 GB%
A+ - 24.7 IP, 11.68 K/9 (32.3%), 2.55 BB/9 (7.1%), 1.09 HR/9 (10 HR/Air%), 7.30 H/9 (.304 BABIP), 47 GB%
Pretty impressive, huh? Lots of Ks, prett good control, and he is clearly difficult to hit. The scouting report on him is that he comes right after hitters in an aggressive fashion and some speculate this may hurt him as he advances to higher levels of competition.
Some say he also tired at the end of the year, but his peripherals were even more dominant in A+ ball, with his HR rate as the lone exception.
Park effects were part of the reason the HR rate increased. You can see the 2003 - 2006 park factors here. Home runs are difficult to hit in Kannapolis, but the park is pretty neutral in regards to everything else. Winston-Salem is just the opposite as the park is more homer friendly. De los Santos' HR rates reflect that. However, beware of the small sample sizes we are using here.
1. HR Rate - Don't be too fooled by the HR rate in low-A ball. The HR rate doesn't reflect the number of ground balls he allowed. He isn't an extreme fly-ball pitcher, but he is certainly fly-ball friendly. If he doesn't get more ground balls, the ball park he plays in could play a major factor in just how much success he has as a pitcher.
2. Command - De los Santos' control is good enough, but how good is his command? I spoke of his aggressive mentality earlier. He can throw in the area he is targeting, but can he place a ball just where he wants it?
3. A Third Pitch - I touched on this earlier, but I would like to add that he needs to improve how to set hitters up with his repertoire of pitches instead of simply overpowering them.
De los Santos has the stuff to succeed and he has shown little fear thus far in his career. He has the mechanics of a power pitcher and the efficiency to keep his stuff as he gets older though some mechanical tweaks are needed. As is the case with any pitchiing prospect, injury is a concern and the risk is even higher with a pitcher who has aggressive mechanics. However, his upside is pretty astounding and I love the tenacity he pitches with. At worst, I see him as a power arm with two plus pitches out of the bullpen.
9 Upside, Low Probability
7.5 Mid-Level, Average Probability
6.5 Downside, Average Probability
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