Shortstop-turned-pitcher making progress

Updated: March 13, 2010, 12:46 PM ET
By Buster Olney
The first time that Sergio Santos took the mound in front of White Sox general manager Kenny Williams and the Chicago staff last spring, he could sense their enthusiasm for what they were watching, for the heavy, boring fastball that he was throwing in the mid-90s.

But Santos wasn't that excited. He wasn't really sure how he felt.

To understand why, you need to know that Santos was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round of the 2002 draft, as a shortstop. He reached Triple-A in 2005, just one step away from the majors. But that would be the first of five consecutive seasons for Santos at that level, and he moved from the D-backs' organization to Toronto to the Twins and back to Toronto, accumulating 3,145 at-bats.

He had always been a position player, had always thought of himself as a position player and had always envisioned himself being in the big leagues as an infielder. In 2008, Santos had hit .228 with five homers in 112 games, and so last spring, the White Sox posed a question to Santos that the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays and Twins had brought up before: What do you think about the idea of pitching?

Santos' throwing arm had always been one of his best assets, as an infielder. But he did not have much experience pitching beyond Little League. Santos had served as a closer for his high school briefly in his freshman year, but when he got a sore arm, his father told him to put the pitching behind him and focus on his work as an infielder.

But Santos' status with the White Sox was tenuous, so he agreed to throw a bullpen session. And Williams and pitching coach Don Cooper and others were extremely pleased with what they saw. Santos had a great fastball, and the slider that he showed -- using a grip that he had sometimes used to mess with first basemen as he loosened up between innings -- showed real promise. His mechanics were simple, workable. The White Sox were ready to convert him immediately. We want you to be a pitcher, he was told.

"It was a hard decision, because all along, you're preparing [as a position player] and you're this close," Santos said Friday.

So Santos balked at the suggestion, and after talking over his options with Buddy Bell, the farm director for the White Sox, Santos was traded to the San Francisco Giants. He wanted to continue on as a position player.

But not long after joining the Giants, he was told that he probably wouldn't have an every-day job in the minor leagues. He was ready to try pitching, and so the White Sox made a deal for him with the idea of switching him. "I kind of made up my mind that as much as I've tried to have it work out as a position player, it just wasn't working," said Santos. "There was a lot of soul-searching."

The White Sox didn't think there was a lot of tinkering to be done with his pitching mechanics. They wanted him to work from the stretch, limiting the possible mechanical complications and allowing him to focus on using his fastball. After throwing in bullpen sessions, Santos got into a game in extended spring training and immediately discovered how different pitching was with a hitter standing in the box, with the adrenaline rushing through. "I was naive," he said. "When I was first out there, I threw something like 27 pitches in the first inning, and I was thinking, 'What have I gotten myself into?'"