Hector Santiago

Hector Santiago would figure to be next up in White Sox rotation, but he's making sure Carson Fulmer stays there


Hector Santiago would figure to be next up in White Sox rotation, but he's making sure Carson Fulmer stays there

So far in spring training, the best pitcher on the White Sox is the guy who couldn’t get a job.

He also might be the best teammate, a selfless act in sportsmanship unfolding right now in Arizona that is a sight to behold.

A free agent during the worst offseason in the history of free agency, Hector Santiago waited for the phone to ring all winter long. In November, nobody called. In December and January, same thing. Finally in February, teams started showing some interest in the 2015 All Star, but nothing was guaranteed.

Coming off an injury-plagued season, Santiago wasn’t expecting to break the bank in his first chance at free agency, but he did hope better offers would come.  

They didn’t.

Finally, a day before spring training began, he signed a minor league contract with the White Sox, the first team that gave him an opportunity when they drafted him in the 30th round out of little known Okaloosa-Walton Community College in Niceville, Florida, in 2006.

When he arrived in Glendale, there seemingly wasn’t a spot in the rotation. Heck, there wasn’t even room for Santiago on the 40-man roster.

But now with Carson Fulmer struggling, a door has suddenly swung open. However, instead of walking right through it, Santiago is doing the exact opposite, essentially slamming the door on himself for the sake of the team.

Santiago has chosen to help the young Fulmer every chance he gets.

“I’ve talked with Fulmer a lot,” Santiago said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He’s putting a lot more pressure on himself because he feels like he’s competing for a spot. Right now, the job is his and it’s his to lose, so he has to go out there and compete and be positive.”

In his first two spring starts, Fulmer gave up eight runs on nine hits and five walks in two innings. Santiago came out of the bullpen to spell Fulmer in both games and allowed one run in eight innings with one walk and nine strikeouts.

If Fulmer doesn’t improve, the veteran Santiago is the clear candidate to replace him in the rotation.

But Santiago wants Fulmer to get back on track, revealing more about Santiago’s character than his actual pitching ability.

Take Fulmer’s last start. Santiago was watching him in the bullpen and noticed how much energy Fulmer was burning during warm-ups.

“You’ve got to be more conservative going into a game,” Santiago said he told Fulmer. “I was watching him in the bullpen, and I’m like, ‘Here goes three scoreless innings.’ He was executing every pitch, he was spinning it where he wanted it, he had life on the ball, his breaking pitches were great. And then he goes into the game and he gets two strikes, and you’re competing for a spot on the team, and for him it’s like, ‘I gotta get this guy, I gotta get this guy.’ And it’s like, 'No man, if you’ve got a guy 0-2, you’ve just got to execute a pitch. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to bounce it. You can throw a fastball.' He had so many different options where he could put a guy away.”

Instead, Fulmer allowed a leadoff home run to the Padres' Manuel Margot on an 0-2 count in the first inning, and it was pretty much downhill for Fulmer after that.

This could be the best thing to happen for Santiago, who waited all winter for a rotation spot that didn’t come. But here he is, basically blocking his own path by putting the team first ahead of any personal gain.

“I can’t go in there and tell Rick (Hahn), ‘Hey, Fulmer is not throwing the ball over right now, so the spot is mine,'” Santiago said. “I have no control over that. My point is, I can help (Fulmer) and I can go out there and succeed and do well and at the end of spring training you can only hope for the best.”

Santiago’s best friend on the team is Nate Jones. The two came up together as rookies with the White Sox in 2012. Jones is trying to come back from his third major surgery. He should have enough things to worry about. But these two grizzled veterans find themselves spending time away from ballpark thinking about ways to help out the young pitchers.

That’s just the kind of guys they are.

“We’re just sitting at home talking about pitchers and what we can say or do to make them understand that there’s no pressure,” Santiago explained. “We’re teammates, we’re all in this together, we’re obviously competing against each other, but I’m not pushing for anything negative. If I see something I can help someone out with and get better, that’s what we’re here for.”

In the end, Santiago is here to make the team. That seems like a lock right now either in the rotation or as a long man in the bullpen. Though if a closer doesn’t develop in spring training, don’t look past Santiago as a possibility. He came out of nowhere as a rookie in 2012 and became the White Sox ninth inning guy to start the season.

“I don’t know how that happened,” Santiago said looking back.

It could happen again. Who knows?

“For me, I’m trying to go out there and throw strikes and get through my innings and hopefully have a job in the big leagues, whether it’s here or somewhere else. Or a long guy, whatever the case may be,” Santiago said. “Honestly, I’ve never been in this situation before. I’ve always been in team control. As a non-roster invite I could wind up being in Triple-A, a long guy in the big leagues, a starter in the big leagues. I have no idea.”

Whatever role the White Sox give Santiago, he’ll embrace it.

And if Fulmer turns his spring around and makes the rotation, he can thank the pitcher who was in line to replace him.

Some of Santiago’s advice to Fulmer was to have fun — and not worry about outcomes.

Santiago’s advice for the rest of the American League:

“In the near future there’s going to be a lot of teams worrying about the White Sox.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: How Hector Santiago is helping the next wave of pitchers


White Sox Talk Podcast: How Hector Santiago is helping the next wave of pitchers

Signed right before spring training, Hector Santiago has made an immediate impact in his second stint with White Sox--and more than you might expect. 

Santiago came on the podcast and revealed that he's been helping out Carson Fulmer, who is competing for the same spot in the White Sox rotation. But that's the kind of guy Santiago is. He also talks about what it was like being a free agent during the worst off-season for MLB free agents ever, why he was able to have so much success against the White Sox in his career and why the White Sox will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future and much more.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Three questions answered — and three questions unanswered — through a couple weeks of White Sox spring training


Three questions answered — and three questions unanswered — through a couple weeks of White Sox spring training

March is almost here, and the White Sox are in the thick of spring training down in Glendale, with Cactus League games getting going over the weekend.

After watching workouts and hearing from players and manager Rick Renteria for two weeks, some of the offseason's biggest questions seem to have answers, while others still remain.

Here are three questions that have been answered and three that still need solving.


1. Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are something to get excited about

There are no guarantees in player development, but the White Sox top two outfield prospects seem to be legit. The highly touted pair, along with fellow prospect Micker Adolfo, generated a ton of buzz whenever they stepped into the batting cages at Camelback Ranch, and after watching them smoke baseballs over the practice-field fences, it’s easy to see why.

All three guys shared that they’re dreaming of playing together in the team’s championship outfield of the future, and if the White Sox can develop that talent, then watch out.

Of course there’s a long way to go. Jimenez has only played a handful of games above the Class A level. Adolfo has played none. And Robert hasn’t even played a minor league baseball game in the United States. General manager Rick Hahn keeps talking about how baseball has a cruel way of reminding that not all prospects pan out. Look no further than Adolfo, who now has a pair of arm injuries after being rated as the best thrower in the White Sox farm system.

But hearing the cracks of the bats and watching the baseballs fly, it’s easy to get excited about these guys’ futures.

2. Carlos Rodon won’t be ready for Opening Day

This one wasn’t that difficult to predict, but after having shoulder surgery last fall, Carlos Rodon won’t be a member of the White Sox starting rotation on Opening Day.

That was actually made relatively clear when the team brought back Miguel Gonzalez, seemingly locking the starting rotation into place alongside James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. But now there’s confirmation that Rodon will not pitch during the Cactus League schedule and will stay at extended spring training after the White Sox leave Glendale for Kansas City.

There’s still no knowing, of course, when Rodon will be back. The White Sox are happy with his progress, and he was throwing during the early parts of the spring, cleared to throw right before SoxFest at the end of January.

Who knows if it will be as late as June this time around after he didn't make his 2017 debut until June 28 after suffering a separate injury last spring. But when he returns, he’ll have to prove that he’s healthy and capable of being the same pitcher who was envisioned as an ace of the future.

3. Hector Santiago gives the White Sox a long man — and starting depth

There didn’t seem to be a member of the White Sox bullpen who could serve in the long-relief role. Then the team brought Hector Santiago back on a minor league deal.

Even though it’s a minor league deal, the former and now current White Sox hurler seems likely to make the bullpen as the long relief man. That role was needed regularly last season, and it’s an important one for a bullpen filled with guys looking to prove themselves as either long-term pieces or midseason trade chips.

But Santiago also gives the White Sox starting pitching depth, providing a one-time All-Star starter as a backup in case any of the five guys in the rotation go down with an injury. Rick Hahn already said he wouldn’t rush Michael Kopech or any of the team’s other pitching prospects to the majors just because someone was hurt at the big league level. And now he won’t have to thanks in part to Santiago’s presence.


1. Who will be the closer?

While there might not be as many open spots in the White Sox bullpen as initially believed, there is a huge question mark at closer. Who will throw in the ninth inning for the White Sox this season?

Juan Minaya had closing duties at the end of last season and fared pretty well after much of the bullpen was traded away in summer deals. But do the White Sox see Minaya as a closer of the future?

If not, they might be more likely to go with one of the new acquisitions in order to try and establish a deadline trade chip. Maybe someone like Joakim Soria, who has tons of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. Of course those days are getting longer and longer ago.

But if the White Sox go with Soria and he does well, they could try to fetch the same kind of return they got last season when they shipped David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and other relievers away from the South Side.

2. Who will be the starting center fielder?

The White Sox are not short on options in center field. But there aren’t necessarily any slam-dunk ones, hence why the job is still up for grabs.

Adam Engel started 91 games in center last season and hit just .166. While his glove is terrific, his offensive production is not that of a starting position player in the major leagues. Leury Garcia was far better with the bat but might be more valuable as a versatile infielder who can spell the four guys around the diamond. Charlie Tilson has high hopes but has struggled mightily to just get on the baseball field and stay there, much of his White Sox career wiped out so far due to injuries. Further down the list is Ryan Cordell, the guy acquired in the Anthony Swarzak trade last summer who has a good Triple-A track record and got some love from Rick Hahn at SoxFest.

Garcia seems to be the best option if the White Sox are looking for the most consistent bat. But for a rebuilding team not expected to contend in 2018, maybe giving guys like Engel and Tilson more chances to prove themselves makes more sense.

3. Do the White Sox have another move left in them?

For a rebuilding team like the White Sox, this perplexing offseason might be a really rare opportunity.

In the last week, the White Sox were mentioned as a potential landing spot for a pair of All-Star position players: Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez. Considering the slowness of the market, guys who were once pegged for multi-year deals could now be bargains one one-year contracts. That could allow a team like the White Sox to swoop in and sign these guys at very low risk. If they produce, they could become long-term options or midseason trade chips. If they don’t, it was a one-year flier and did no harm for a team not expected to contend — and it does not negatively impact the rebuild in any way.

The White Sox already pulled the trigger on a springtime addition with Hector Santiago. There are still tons of free agents out there, and even if it’s not someone the caliber of Moustakas or Gonzalez, the White Sox could still ink someone who could really benefit the short- and long-term success of the team at a bargain.