For those of you who follow the farm system of the Dodgers closely, you’ll know that the Double-A Tulsa Drillers had one of their best seasons in recent history. Anchored by the Texas League batting champ and MVP Matt Beaty, coupled with some of the best pitchers in the entire organization, the Drillers came up just one game short of bringing home their first league championship in 19 seasons.
Highlighted by names like Yadier Alvarez, Josh Sborz, Mitchell White, Scott Barlow and Andrew Sopko, the Tulsa rotation is yet another example of how rich and plentiful the farm actually is. Yet, there’s another righty pitcher who slotted into the starting crew for seven starts this season, and could conceivably have a higher ceiling than any of his current teammates.
Signed as a shortstop out of the Dominican Republic at the ripe age of 16 in 2013, Dennis Santana is in the midst of a journey which could conceivably make a stop at the big leagues someday soon. He’s already ranked as the 12th best prospect in the entire system. On center stage in the North Division Championship series finale against Northwest Arkansas on September 10, Santana threw perhaps the best game of his short career, delivering seven brilliant innings of three-hit, shutout ball while striking out a season-high 11 opposing batters.
Amidst an extremely busy time during last weekend’s Texas League Championship series, Santana was kind enough to sit down and spend a few moments with us to provide some insight into his current road to success.
Straight away, we asked Dennis about his transition into the Dodgers’ system at such a young age, wondering exactly how long it took him to adjust upon arriving to the United States.
“It really didn’t take much time at all,” Santana said. “What I really missed was my family, but thank God, we’re always able to stay in touch.”
In 2014, the native of San Pedro de Macorís was a member of the Dodgers’ squad in the Dominican Summer League as an 18 year-old, and it wasn’t long after that he began his conversion to becoming a pitcher. In rookie ball between Ogden and the Arizona League Dodgers in 2015, Santana made a total of 11 starts and struck out an impressive 52 batters in only 47-2/3 innings of work.
“At first, I never really thought about pitching because I was such a good hitter,” Santana explained. “The Dodgers never told me that I was going to tryout as a pitcher—it just sort of happened. The good thing about Tulsa is that I can do the two things I love—pitch and hit.”
Hit he did, indeed. Santana went 3-for-7 at the dish for the Drillers this season, highlighted by a 440-ft. mammoth home run into the stands at ONEOK Field against Springfield on September 2. Rumor has it there was even a hint of a bat-flip involved.
On the pitching side of things, Santana told us a little about his impressive repertoire, which is highlighted by a fastball that has the potential of topping out in the triple digits.
“I think my two best offerings are my slider and my fastball,” he stated. “I throw both a four-seam and a two-seam that sinks. I also use a changeup and a bending curve ball. Plus, I’m currently working on a splitter. My fastball normally sits at 96-98 MPH, but was clocked as high as 100 MPH at Rancho earlier in the season.”
Not too shabby for a former infielder who was taking grounders at shortstop just three short years ago.
When asked about which players and coaches have helped him the most over his time in the organization, Santana said it was hard to point out just one, as there are many who have provided him with beneficial guidance.
“Ever since DSL, I’ve had many great teammates, and it’s hard to name just one. Everyone I’ve crossed paths with has influenced my career. The coaching staff is tremendously dedicated—they have sacrificed a huge amount of time to help me become a better player.”
Between both Single-A Rancho Cucamonga and Tulsa this year, Santana tallied a career-high 118-1/3 innings pitched, while posting an 8-7 record with 129 strikeouts. We asked him how is arm felt after throwing more innings than he’s ever logged as a professional.
“The season was a bit long and exhausting, but thank God, I was able to make the necessary preparations in the offseason. I wouldn’t lie in saying that a rest at one point would have been nice, but I made it.”
As far as how he sees his future in the organization and what his short-term goals are, Santana showed his humble side, saying the best he can do is to simply give 100% for every opportunity he’s afforded.
“I feel more than blessed. As a believer in God, I think everything is in his hands, and he has control of my future. I live for every moment, every second, every chance. I try to give my best for my teammates, my organization and my family. I’m extremely grateful for the treatment from the entire organization and all the opportunities they give me.”
(Follow Dennis Santana on Twitter: @DennisSantanaRD)