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.

White Sox adjust 40-man roster — including adding Eloy Jimenez — ahead of Rule 5 Draft deadline

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USA TODAY

White Sox adjust 40-man roster — including adding Eloy Jimenez — ahead of Rule 5 Draft deadline

The White Sox made some adjustments to their 40-man roster ahead of Monday's deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft.

Rules stipulate that a player who signed when he was 18 or younger and has played five seasons of professional baseball is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft if he is not on his team's 40-man roster. Because of that, the White Sox — like the rest of the teams in the league — made some moves Monday to protect certain players.

The White Sox announced Monday afternoon that they purchased the contracts of infielder Casey Gillaspie from Triple-A Charlotte, outfielder Eloy Jimenez from Double-A Birmingham, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and pitcher Ian Clarkin from Class-A Winston-Salem and outfielder Micker Adolfo from Class-A Kannapolis.

Simultaneously, pitchers Chris Beck and Tyler Danish were outrighted to Charlotte.

The most notable name on the list is of course Jimenez, the highly ranked outfielder acquired from the Cubs in July's trade that sent Jose Quintana to the North Side. Jimenez was a no-brainer to be protected after he slugged 19 homers and hit 22 doubles with 65 RBIs in his 89 games in the minors last season, splitting time between Birmingham and Winston-Salem in the White Sox system and Class-A Myrtle Beach in the Cubs' system. Jimenez is ranked as the White Sox No. 1 prospect by MLB.com.

Gillaspie was acquired in the trade that sent Dan Jennings to the Tampa Bay Rays. The brother of former White Sox infielder Conor Gillaspie, he hit 15 homers and 20 doubles in 125 games all at the Triple-A level. Gillaspie is ranked as the White Sox No. 11 prospect by MLB.com.

Basabe, the White Sox No. 17 prospect, was in last offseason's Chris Sale trade and hit .221 with five homers and 12 doubles at Winston-Salem. Adolfo, the White Sox No. 14 prospect, was signed as a free agent in 2013 and hit .264 with 16 homers and 28 doubles at Kannapolis. Clarkin, the White Sox No. 22 prospect, was acquired in the seven-player trade with the Yankees in July and posted a 2.60 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 86.2 innings of work at the Class-A level.

The 27-year-old Beck posted a very high 6.40 ERA in 64.2 innings out of the White Sox bullpen last season. Danish made just one appearance with the big league club last season, getting his first major league win in the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers.

Three months till baseball's back as White Sox announce spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

Three months till baseball's back as White Sox announce spring training schedule

Only three more months till the White Sox are back in action.

The South Siders announced their spring training schedule Monday, with Cactus League play commencing Feb. 23 out in Arizona.

The White Sox have the unenviable task of opening the exhibition schedule against the defending National League champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers playing hosts to the Pale Hose in Glendale. The White Sox will be the visitors, though they share the Camelback Ranch facility with the Dodgers, so they'll still be in their home ballpark. Their first official home game comes two days later, in a Feb. 25 matchup against the Cincinnati Reds.

The White Sox will face off against the Cubs in three "Cactus Crosstown" games on Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and on March 16 in Glendale.

And in a cool wrap to the preseason, the White Sox will square off against their own Triple-A affiliate March 26 in Charlotte. The game against the Knights should be a fun watch considering all the future White Sox expected to make their way to the big leagues over the next couple seasons. The Knights' roster could be loaded with highly ranked prospects depending on how things shake out.

Here's the full schedule: