If you were able to catch my column on Sunday, you would have seen my projections for the 2020 starting rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City. The main goal of the story—as with most of my prospect posts—is to examine the organizational depth of the Dodgers at all levels of their farm.
One of my predictions was having 23-year-old Dennis Santana among the starting crew at OKC. The righty is currently ranked as the 10th-best prospect in the system. Since his MLB debut in June of 2018, he has been floating back and forth between a starting role and a relief role, having most recently finished his 2019 campaign with nine straight appearances out of Oklahoma City’s bullpen.
Coincidentally, after breaking down all his 2019 minor league numbers, he completed the year with an extremely impressive 1.72 ERA, a .179 BAA (batting average against) and 21 punchouts over 15-2/3 innings in relief. In a starting role, he posted a 3-9 record over 17 starts with an even 8.00 ERA, a 1.79 WHIP and a .312 BAA.
Not long after Sunday’s column, Kyle Glaser of Baseball America conducted a prospect chat about the Dodgers’ system. One of the statements he made was that he views Santana as one of the best relievers on the Los Angeles farm. Consequently, in her column on Tuesday, Andy outlined Baseball America‘s 2023 lineup projections for the Dodgers with Santana assuming the spot of the team’s closer.
While Los Angeles management has been notorious for the fluctuation of some pitchers between starting and relief roles over the last handful of years—see Ross Stripling, Caleb Ferguson, Brock Stewart, Josh Sborz, Jordan Sheffield, among others—I was curious to see if the organization had a definite plan for Santana moving forward.
Thanks to Santana making a little bit of time for me on Tuesday evening, I had the opportunity to speak to him through his agent—Jeff Hinrichsen of Optimum Baseball Associates. The biggest takeaway was that Dennis will at least begin the season as a reliever, although there’s nothing written in stone as far as his role goes as the season progresses.
“I am preparing to pitch from the bullpen, but I am definitely willing to do whatever the team needs from me to help win a championship,” Santana confirmed.
Two of the most important things I wanted to find out was if Santana is 100% healthy and if he is ready to let loose come Cactus League play in February. Although he was very successful in relief late last season, a rotator cuff injury bumped him from the big league roster in the summer of 2018—after the injury, things never seemed quite the same. He made three major league appearances in April of last season—allowing four earned runs on four walks and six hits over five innings—before being demoted to the minors for good.
Regardless, Santana told me that he has since returned to peak physical condition.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Santana explained. “Working hard in the gym every day. My arm feels really good.”
There’s no question that Santana has the tools to build a successful big league career, whether it be as a starter or a reliever. Perhaps his biggest issue at this stage of his career is his command, but there should be enough time for him to smooth things out as the 2020 campaign unfolds. As it stands, his diverse repertoire sets him apart from many prospects his age. Coupled with his velocity, his arsenal is probably the main reason he’s still ranked as a Top 10 team prospect.
“I think my two best offerings are my slider and my fastball,” Santana told us in an interview back in the fall of 2017. “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.”
Whatever his role turns out to be during the upcoming campaign, there’s a good chance he’ll be able to contribute at the big league level at some point, especially since Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Yimi Garcia and JT Chargois have created gaps in the pitching staff.
Santana is already on the club’s 40-man roster and has one option year remaining on his contract, so there should be no administrative issues as far as facilitating another big league promotion goes.
Either way, he certainly sounds that he’s ready to roll.
“I just want to make the team and contribute as much as possible this season,” he said.