For those of you who are regular readers of this site, you know that we spend a lot of time covering the Dodgers‘ minor league affiliates, especially the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. And for those of you who tuned in frequently over the winter months, you know that we gave a lot of air time time to 21-year-old righty pitching prospect, Dennis Santana.
On Thursday, Santana was given the honor of starting the Drillers’ 2018 season opener, and although he didn’t qualify for the win, he was extremely impressive, nonetheless. The Dominican native threw 75 pitches in the affair, allowing just one earned run—a solo homer off the bat of Frisco DH Hunter Cole—over 4-1/3 innings of work. In the process, Santana surrendered just four hits and struck out seven batters while walking none. While it’s an extremely small sample size, his early K/9 is 13.49, a figure which conceivably may stay in the double digits all season.
Ninth-place hitter Errol Robinson was the ultimate hero for the Drillers on Thursday, as he poked a grand slam in the fourth inning, providing all the runs Tulsa would need in the 5-2 victory. Shea Spitzbarth, who followed Santana with two innings of hitless baseball, was awarded the victory, while converted reliever Josh Sborz threw a perfect ninth and earned the save.
Over the winter, Santana was named to the Dodgers’ big league 40-man roster and may be among those prospects who are on the fast track to the majors. He’s currently being groomed as a starting pitcher; however, his stuff is so electric that it could play big in the Los Angeles bullpen at some point.
Prior to Tuesday’s Opening Day start, Santana’s previous two outings were nothing short of brilliant. On center stage in the North Division Championship series finale against Northwest Arkansas last September, he threw perhaps the best game of his short career, delivering seven innings of three-hit, shutout ball while striking out a season-high 11 opposing batters. In the Texas League Championship one week later, he lasted six innings, scattering six hits and striking out seven, but took the hard-luck loss after giving up a single unearned run.
On the big league side of things, during 2018 Cactus League play, he made two official appearances, throwing two full innings of shutout ball and surrendering just two hits while striking out two.
Signed as a shortstop out of the Dominican Republic at the ripe age of 16 in 2013, the native of San Pedro de Macorís was a member of the Dodgers’ squad in the Dominican Summer League in 2014, 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.
The hard-throwing righty was kind enough to spend some time with us last fall, and we asked him straightaway what the thought process was behind his transition to the mound.
“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.”
He did have a few chances to showcase his skills with the lumber last season. He went 3-for-7 at the dish for the Drillers last year, highlighted by a 440-ft. mammoth blast into the stands at ONEOK Field against Springfield on September 2. Rumor has it there was even a hint of a bat-flip involved.
As far as his pitching repertoire goes, he’s probably best known for his heat, but it could be his diversity that makes him one of the best arms in the system.
“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 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 last year.”
Tulsa continues its opening series at Frisco on Friday with lefty Caleb Ferguson taking the Hill for the Drillers. Following Ferguson is Justin De Fratus in the finale on Saturday. In the series against Midland, lefty Devin Smeltzer gets the call on Monday, while flame-thrower Yadier Alvarez will start on Tuesday. Ferguson is in line to start the home opener against Frisco on Thursday, April 19.
First pitch for Friday’s contest is slated for 7:05 p.m. Central time.
(Follow Dennis Santana on Twitter: @Dennis SantanaRD)