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 prospect Luis Robert's new hair is almost literally fire

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Luis Robert's new hair is almost literally fire

Luis Robert is one of the top prospects in the White Sox system and apparently he has a new hair style that makes him look like a hot prospect, or something.

Robert showed it off on his Instagram story. The emojis are a perfect match because the hair makes your head explode and the color sort of matches the color of the fire emoji.

There are so many questions from this. First off, why? Was Robert trying to have his hair look like an emoji? Is he really this bored in the offseason? Most importantly, will he keep the hair when spring training hits?

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Sox Drawer Q&A: How much does the Alonso trade affect the chances of landing Machado?

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USA TODAY

Sox Drawer Q&A: How much does the Alonso trade affect the chances of landing Machado?

From Harper Hysteria to Manny Mania, White Sox fans have been in a state of delirium in the last week, engulfed by the twists and turns surrounding the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free agent saga that if it continues like this into February will send many of us straight to the local mental ward. Depending on the story or tweet you read, linking or not linking Harper/Machado to the White Sox, a whole range of emotions have come rushing at us like Khalil Mack sacking Aaron Rodgers with his butt.

Speaking of…

Q: What happened to WetButt23? I’d like to know what’s going to happen this off-season already! -- @DerrickYapp

CG: Seriously. Where’s WetButt23 when you need him (or her?). He (or she?) broke the Jose Quintana trade in 2017. Unfortunately, it seems like the scoops have apparently dried up for WetButt. I wish I could break the news that Harper or Machado are signing with the White Sox, but what I can do is try to make sense of it all in the latest edition of the Sox Drawer!

By the way, don’t Google “WetButt” at work. You just might get a phone call from Human Resources.

Q: Buster Olney reported that the Sox aren’t prepared to offer record breaking money to Harper or Machado. That may or may not be true. But if they aren’t prepared to do so, can you even look at their efforts to sign one or both as “serious”? -- @HalloweenHalpin

CG: For the White Sox to spend this much effort courting both of these free agents, it sounds like a colossal waste of time if they’re not truly serious about signing either of them, doesn’t it? They’re not just pursuing Harper and Machado to show White Sox fans that they’re TRYING. I’m sure they envision a reality where Harper/Machado are actually wearing a White Sox uniform.

As for the story by Olney, who reported that the White Sox won’t sign either player to a record-breaking contract and described the White Sox interest as “more measured and modest” than “frenzied,” I interpret that as some gamesmanship going on behind the scenes that has helped create various perceptions about the White Sox interest and chances in these sweepstakes. Consider what happened last week at the Winter Meetings, where it was reported by two different outlets that the White Sox didn’t consider themselves “the favorite” to sign Harper and that the White Sox were “the front runner” to sign Harper on the exact same day. Which is it? Those stories didn’t come out on accident. The quest to sign Harper and Machado is a giant poker game, with $300-$400 million-plus at stake. The teams, players and agents hold the cards. We are merely spectators trying to figure out what’s really going on.

I do believe that the White Sox aggressiveness in signing Harper or Machado is genuine. Machado didn’t come to Chicago on Monday to check out the Christmas lights. There must be some signs from the White Sox that they are serious bidders for him. That’s why he made them his first stop on his free agent tour. That said, to prevent Machado or Harper from signing with the Yankees or Dodgers or whoever, I do think the White Sox will have to offer more money than their competitors. Will they? I hope so. But then again, it’s not my money. Hang in there. Try not to get too caught up in the reports to come. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them.

Q: Obvious question: how much does the Alonso trade affect the chances of landing Machado? -- @SykoSkotty

CG: Rick Hahn told reporters that acquiring Yonder Alonso (who is Machado’s brother-in-law) was purely “a baseball trade,” but I’ve gotta say, that was one shrewd baseball trade. Alonso said on a conference call with reporters on Monday that he and Machado “are really close.” In fact, they live three blocks from each other in Miami. Hear more from Alonso on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast. Alonso added, “I think it would be very, very nice to be neighbors on the South Side.” With that, Alonso immediately jumps into the top 10 of best White Sox quotes of 2018. He has a great reputation for being media and fan friendly. He’s also friends with Jose Abreu. They’ve already been texting about sharing first base/DH duties. Maybe they can add Machado on a group text. Whatever it takes.

Q: Scenario for the great Garfien: Sox sign Machado AND Harper for 10 years, BUT you have to spend a month in jail (solitary confinement). Would you do it? -- @VincenzosHouse

CG: As much as I’d love to see Machado AND Harper on the White Sox for 10 years, I do have my sanity to consider. So, I will politely pass on one month of solitary confinement. Fortunately, there are many rabid White Sox fans who will gladly take my place! I posed this question on Twitter and roughly 90 percent of those who answered said they will rush to the nearest prison to sit in an 80 square foot box Andy Dufresne-style to bring Machado and Harper to the South Side. You are a special group of White Sox fans who deserve to be recognized! Here’s a sampling. You are heroes to us all.

Q: If The White Sox Sign Machado (who will sign first) do you think that will take them out of the Harper sweepstakes. IF Harper Is Their Top Priority/preference (Reported) why risk not being able to sign Harper by signing Machado first unless will they look to sign both? My Brain  --- @emiliano47

CG: My brain, too.

Q: If the Sox don’t hit on these big free agents, it seems as though money isn’t the reason. What’s next? If having the most money to throw around and being in Chicago doesn’t land you one this year, I doubt anyone will sign next year. How do we ever compete?  -- @LandoJQuintana

CG: If the White Sox do offer the most money and are unable to sign Harper or Machado, it doesn’t mean anything to me about whether they can sign a big time free agent next year or not. Only two teams are going to win here, possibly one if they both somehow sign with the same team. Most clubs will be coming up empty. The biggest hurdles for the White Sox might simply be timing and their competition. Despite having a great farm system and tons of financial flexibility, the White Sox did lose 100 games last season. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. I know Harper’s agent Scott Boras said they’re looking at each team’s chances to win in the long term, not the short term, but the Sox aren’t winning right now in the present. That could be an obstacle in the end. These guys are human. Boras also could have said those comments to keep more teams involved in the race. The White Sox are also competing against the Yankees (Machado’s favorite team as a kid), quite possibly the Dodgers (two-time defending NL Champs and close to Harper’s home in Las Vegas), the Nationals (the only team Harper knows) and the Phillies (who might spend that “stupid money”). I’d actually like the White Sox chances more if they were going up against teams like the Braves, Cardinals, Red Sox and Astros, and still it wouldn’t be easy. Even if the White Sox offer more money, the Yankees and Dodgers could argue that there’s more endorsement money to be made in New York and LA. This can and will be spinned in many ways.

My final point is this: the White Sox are going to be competitive in the coming years whether they sign Harper or Machado or not. They should be better in 2019 and will be an even more desirable place to sign in 2020. They can come back and take more free agent swings next winter. Hear that Nolan Arenado?

Q: Well from what I seen. We are not signing Harper or Machado. I am ok with that. They are not the reason I am a season ticket holder. I love our ballpark! I love our fans! And I love our players! They are all way under rated. Hahn I believe in the rebuild. -- @RickyRi48202029

CG: Preach!

Q: When do these two make their decisions? I'm tired of the rollercoaster. -- @pucksnut

CG: Who knows? It’s tough to say. There’s a theory that both agents may want to wait until the other signs to guarantee their client gets the biggest contract. Let’s hope that’s not the case. This could be decided in a week or a month or more. It’s one big guesstimate at this point.

Q: What do you think was Hahn's thought process on the McCann signing? -- @david_justus

CG: They got McCann for one season at $2.5 million. That’s not bad for a back-up catcher. His offensive numbers did crater last season and he has struggled with pitch framing in the last couple years. However, he’s great at throwing out runners (36 percent in 2018) and he’s familiar with the AL Central, especially the Tigers. I like the intel he might be able to give the White Sox for those 18 games against their division rivals. Every bit of information counts!

Q: Possible for Nick Burdi get traded to the sox? It’ll be cool to have brothers in the bullpen. -- @GregMazurkiewi1

CG: I’m sure his brother Zack wouldn’t mind!

Q: With Harold Baines getting into the Hall of Fame, who do you think is more likely to get inducted in the future, Mark Buehrle or Paul Konerko? -- @Talent_Finder85

CG: It’s probably a longshot that either get in, but if I had to choose one I’d give the edge to Buehrle. All of his greatest accomplishments really stand out: perfect game, no hitter, 14 straight seasons pitching 200 innings or more, four Gold Gloves, a save in the World Series and his 214 wins will look better as the years go on as wins by starters become more and more extinct. My colleague Chris Kamka took a closer look at Buehrle, Konerko and four other former White Sox legends who could be candidates for the Hall of Fame in the future. Check it out!

And finally!

Q: Please confirm for all Chicagoans that Aurelio’s Homewood is the best pizza? -- @greaseball23

CG: Considering I grew up in Flossmoor and went the original Aurelio’s Pizza in Homewood about 10,000 times in my youth, I think you know the answer.

Thanks again for all of your questions! Sorry I couldn’t get to all of them. You guys are the best! We’ll do it again soon!

 

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