Four years ago, Sergio Santos was flailing to the tune of a .183 average for the Toronto Blue Jays' then-Triple-A Affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs. The 6-foot-2, 230 pound Santos, a former first-round pick of the Diamondbacks, was too slow for shortstop and clearly wasn't going to hit his way to the majors. His big league window appeared closed.
Yesterday, Santos returned to the Jays -- to close. The converted infielder, who has established himself as one of the game's great strikeout artists out of the 'pen, was traded from the White Sox to Toronto for another infield convert, Nestor Molina.
For Chicago, the Santos trade may signify the beginning of a painful rebuilding process that could also put the likes of Carlos Quentin, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Alexei Ramirez on the market (no one's touching Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy or Alex Rios). A fastball/splitter righty with sublime control (he had a 148-to-16 K-to-BB ratio in 130.1 innings between High-A and AA), Molina was recently graded as a B+ prospect by John Sickels. The soon-to-be 23-year-old doesn't have a great breaking ball, but he could be a nice mid-rotation starter. It's a start.
On the other side, credit Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos and company for landing an elite reliever without paying the Papelbon premium in free agency -- Santos is signed through 2014 for a total of $8.25 million, and he has team options for the three seasons after that for a combined $22.75 million. While Santos' control isn't great (4.3 BB/9 over the past two years), his power slider might be the nastiest pitch in the sport.
Santos has thrown the mid-to-high-80s breaker slightly less than a quarter of the time over the past two seasons. Hitters have whiffed at the pitch 60 percent of the time they have swung, trailing just the Angels' Jordan Walden and Atlanta's Jonny Venters in slider miss percentage. Santos buries the pitch out of the zone to his glove side...
...And hitters don't have a prayer against those below-the-knees pitches. Check out opponents' contact rate by pitch location vs. Santos' slider, versus the league average:
Santos' slider makes MLB athletes with Jedi-like coordination look like, well, Santos did as a hitter. Opponents have batted .101 against the pitch, with a .131 OBP and a .187 slugging percentage. By the way, pitchers hit a collective .141/.175/.182 this past year.
The 28-year-old loves to go to the slider with two strikes, throwing it half the time in such situations, and he has racked up 99 of his 148 Ks with the pitch. Santos couldn't hit the slider. Luckily for him, no one can hit his, either.