White Sox

Sox Drawer: The Santiago screwball

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Sox Drawer: The Santiago screwball

For five years, Hector Santiago toiled in the White Sox farm system making a slow, gradual climb from Bristol to Kannapolis to Winston-Salem to Birmingham. Selected by the White Sox in the 30th round of the 2006 draft, he was concerned that he had reached his ceiling in the organization. He was good, not great. Translation: nothing special. Where will that get you? Usually not the majors. More often baseball's graveyard, where thousands of careers eventually go to die.

Santiago saw his baseball future and was concerned it would soon be on life support. So at the start of the 2011 season, he did something about it.

"I had nothing to lose," Santiago said in an interview inside the visiting clubhouse in Texas. "I was going into my fifth season as a minor league player and I was like, 'Let's try to get something in my arsenal that can make me better, get me noticed a little more and stand out.'"

The solution for Santiago was to learn how to throw a screwball, a deceptive and difficult pitch to master which breaks in the opposite direction of a curveball. Thrown by a lefty like Santiago, it goes from right to left, moving down and in on a left-handed batter, and down and away to a right-hander. Thrown properly, the ball can move as much as two feet.

Christy Mathewson was the first prominent pitcher to use the screwball in the early 1900's. Carl Hubbell threw it in the 1934 All-Star Game when he famously struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.

Fernando Venezuela and Tug McGraw later made careers hurling the screwball. However, in the last 25 years, it's almost become a dinosaur -- pretty much extinct from the game.

Why?

Because the hand and arm movement is so unnatural, you can permanently damage your arm and elbow.

"I have a couple friends that are left-handed, but they won't get into it," Santiago said. "They're afraid of injury."

But not Santiago. He's willing to take the chance. That baseball cemetery is a few miles away. At 24-years-old, he's willing to risk it and so far he's succeeding.

In spring training, he was nothing short of dominant, giving up one run over 11 innings while striking out 13. Opposing batters routinely went back to the dugout shaking their heads in disbelief, losing Santiago's game of "Now You See it, Now You Don't."

"I guess it's been so effective because it's not really seen anymore," Santiago said. "It's something hitters haven't seen and I actually throw it for a strike, and can bury it when I want to. It's coming from the left side, and it's actually almost like a right-handed pitch."

When the White Sox arrived in Texas to start the regular season, there were rumblings that Santiago had won the job as closer, but manager Robin Ventura didn't want to announce it and put added pressure on the young rookie. Saturday night against the defending A-L Champion Rangers, the suspense came to a dramatic conclusion when Santiago entered the game in the bottom of the ninth, nursing a 4-3 lead, and pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning for his first career save.

"This is a huge opportunity," he said after the game. "I'll do everything in my power I can to stay in this role, and succeed."

But as history proves, throwing a screwball has an expiration date, and hopefully a lot longer than a carton of milk.

"I try not to think about it," Santiago said of the injury potential. "I go in the weight room and I get my shoulder program done and try to do all the extra stuff to maintain and be able to keep doing it without getting injured. Just try to do a little extra when you have to just to prevent that."

If Santiago can stay healthy, and he continues to baffle hitters, suddenly the White Sox have quite a weapon in the back of their bullpen.

And that career that once seemed headed for a baseball obituary, will be given a brand new life.

Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

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Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

The Cubs made the Jose Quintana deal knowing it would have been more difficult to give up Dylan Cease if he was already performing at the Double-A level, and that the White Sox organization would be a good place to continue his education as a young pitcher.

While Eloy Jimenez keeps drawing ridiculous comparisons – the running total now includes Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz – Cease is more than just the other name prospect from the deal that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break.

“We still project him as a starter,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during this week’s GM meetings in Florida. “He certainly has the stuff where it’s easy to envision him as a potential dominant reliever. But to this point – for the foreseeable future – we deal with the starting and continue to develop him as a potential front-end arm.”

The Theo Epstein regime still hasn’t developed an impact homegrown pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from winning 292 games, six playoff rounds and a World Series title across the last three seasons, while still being in a strong position to win the National League Central again in 2018.

Without Quintana and his affordable contract that can run through 2020, Epstein’s front office might have been looking at the daunting possibility of trying to acquire three starting pitchers this winter.

While surveying a farm system in the middle of a natural downturn, Baseball America ranked seven pitchers on its top-10 list of prospects from the Cubs organization: Adbert Alzolay, Jose Albertos, Alex Lange, Oscar De La Cruz, Brendon Little, Thomas Hatch and Jen-Ho Tseng.

So far, only Alzolay, an Arizona Fall League Fall Star with seven starts for Double-A Tennessee on his resume, and Tseng, who made his big-league debut in September, have pitched above the A-ball level.

Cease – who went 0-8 with a 3.89 ERA for Class-A Kannapolis in his first nine starts in the White Sox system – has a 100-mph fastball and a big curveball and won’t turn 22 until next month. That stuff allowed Cease to pile up 126 strikeouts against 44 walks in 93.1 innings this year, putting him in the wave that includes Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen.

“Ideally, we have a lot of guys we project to be part of the future, very good, championship-caliber rotation,” Hahn said. “In an ideal world, there’s not going to be room at the inn for all of them. You only have five in that rotation and some of these guys will wind up in the bullpen. In reality, as players develop, you’re going to see some attrition.”

One spot after the White Sox grabbed Carlos Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Cubs did Kyle Schwarber’s below-slot deal, using part of the savings to buy out Cease’s commitment to Vanderbilt University ($1.5 million bonus for a sixth-rounder) and supervise his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Cease was never going to be on the fast track to Wrigley Field, and now the White Sox hope he can be part of the foundation on the South Side, where it’s easier to sell a rebuild after watching the Cubs and Houston Astros become World Series champions.

“It doesn’t change really for us internally in terms of our commitment or focus or our plan or our timeline or anything along those lines,” Hahn said. “I do think, perhaps, it helps the fan base understand a little bit about what the process looks like, where other teams have been and how long the path they took to get to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series (was). In Chicago, many fans saw it firsthand with the Cubs.

“There are certainly more and more examples in the game over the last several years to help sort of show fans the path and justification for what we’re (doing).”

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

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USA TODAY

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

The White Sox continued their rebuild Thursday by trading for an intriguing young right-handed pitcher.

The South Siders acquired Thyago Vieira from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for international signing bonus pool money.

The 24-year-old Vieira is a Brazilian native and has only made one appearance in the big leagues, striking out a batter in one perfect inning of work in 2017.

While his career minor-league numbers don't jump off the page — 14-19 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 13 saves and 7.4 K/9 in 290.2 innings \— Vieira has been reportedly clocked at 104 mph with his fastball and was ranked as the Mariners' No. 8 prospect at the time of the deal. He also held righties to .194 batting average in 2017.

Here's video of Vieira throwing gas:

And this may explain why Vieira was even available:

Control has been an issue throughout his career, as he's walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in the minors. He has improved in that regard over the last few seasons, however, walking only 22 batters in 54 innings across three levels in 2017 and he doled out only one free pass in 5.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

What does this deal mean in the big picture for baseball? How did the Sox pull off a move like this while not having to give up a player in return? 

This may help shed light on the situation from Baseball America's Kyle Glaser:

Either way, the White Sox may have just acquired a guy who could potentially throw his name in the hat for "future closer." Or at the very least, throw his name in the hat for "best name."