Dennis Santana Preparing for 2020 Bullpen Role

(Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

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.


32 thoughts on “Dennis Santana Preparing for 2020 Bullpen Role

  1. McCullough has an interesting read today @TheAthletic.

    Here’s a good piece of sourced info:

    Another wrinkle worth considering; The Dodgers are not enamored with the idea of absorbing David Price’s contract as part of a package involving Betts, according to people familiar with the situation. But what about Chris Sale?…

    I really like how Moura and McCullough seem to have good sources and report on them. A welcome respite from the inane speculation on the fan blogs

  2. I really hope that the front office will make a decision and stick by it with regard to whether they want Santana to be a reliever or a starter. Stats seem to show his best shot would be as a reliever. He’s always had a terrific attitude and I hope 2020 proves to be a real turn around year for him.

    1. Good read.

      I don’t believe the catching job is Smith’s for 3-4 years. I think he could lose it this year though I don’t expect that to happen.

      1. I keep telling you Scoop, You are seriously underestimating the kid. He is a gamer.

      2. He was for 3 months. Not so much 3 months. I’m willing to give him another shot.

  3. Nice article Dennis. Since relievers are such a fickle bunch it only makes sense developing your own. Santana has magical stuff if he can locate it. I’d also like to see White in the pen. This is a make it or break it year for those two.

  4. I saw Santana pitch in a game in Colorado. Impressive stuff, iffy control, but what a stick. Hit a triple in his first AB.

      1. He is not 24, but the same can be said of Kenley Jansen, hit your spots man. Jansen’s biggest problem is he has lost his command of pitches, he could survive his declining velocity if he would consistently put the ball where the catcher is calling for it. Hit your spots, man! Otherwise hit your chiropractor because your head whipping around to see those ball fly out of the stadium is going to be hell.

      2. Don Rickles would be proud of you IJDM. That last line was actually pretty funny.
        I saw yesterday where Kenley spent some time at Driveline. They’ve done some really good things with some pitchers so I guess we’ll see soon enough if they can add Kenley to the list. And also we’ve hired a new pitching assistant who has worked there I believe.
        One last thing: I hereby declare a national holiday if IJDM ever makes a positive comment here. 🙂

      3. I’ve examined the charts and the spin rates. It looks to me like Jansen’s results should be better. He doesn’t walk many, contact rates are pretty good, swing and miss rates are above league average, velocity of his fastball is down but his spin rates are actually good, as is the HR rate, but good of course is not great and timely probably figures into it. The charts to me do look like he is all over the map so why the increase in BS and ERA? Could be that hitters are waiting for that cutter over the middle. That’s what I would do. He throws that pitch 3 out 4 and a lot of them end up center cut.

      1. I wasn’t convinced Jefe. Reeked of disingenuous.

        Even so, I’m down with not going to work today.

      2. I won’t be going to the park to see the upgrades but I did say something nice. LOL

        If you watch a game closely, you should notice that Jansen rarely throws to the spot the catcher is asking for. The catcher is asking for those spots because the scouting report is telling them where to attack the batters. Jansen constantly defeats the scouting report by lacking the ability to hit his spots. Thus broken neck syndrome from watching balls sail over the fence. It has been going on for the last 2.5 seasons, he started to lose it in August of 2017, he was able to get away with it in that season’s post season, but teams have noticed and now they can sit on his pitches (you’ll notice that he throws a ton of pitches in each appearance because batters are waiting for something juicy and are not swinging at so many balls). If Jansen can regain some command, he will be an effective closer, if not he will remain a fire bomber for most of his appearances. I don’t agree that his lack of velocity is his main problem, it is his command.

      3. I would tend to agree that command is more of a problem than velo, but I think that somehow his mechanics in general have gotten messed up the last couple of years. I’m also thinking he doesn’t have the movement he used to have, at least not on an all-the-time basis. That’s why I’m hoping his work with Driveline might help turn him around. After all, good chiropractors are hard to find.

      4. That’s not necessarily how it works.

        The glove may not be the target. It could be the knee guard, the mask, the shoulder or none of that, just high and tight low and away.

  5. Just watch the broadcast Badger, it is very obvious that Jansen is all over the place and lacks location. It’s so obvious that it really isn’t even worthy of debating.

    Jeff, his mechanics could very well be causing his lack of location and lack of movement on his pitches. IF he can regain his mechanics he may be special again, instead of just being Special like he has been.

    On another subject, I think we are going to see Seager return to form, he was still fighting to recover completely from a surgery filled off-season, now that he is more than 12 months removed from elbow and hip surgery, I think we will be pleasantly surprised. Just let the FO leave him alone and let him show us all what he is made of. If the FO dumps him, they will completely regret it (can you say Jason Werth?)

    1. I agree he misses his spots. Did you see the maps I posted? I’m just saying missing the glove doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Missing bats is ….. Oh wait…. it’s not worth debating. Never mind.

    1. It is also on MLBTR. Not sure what the Reds have that the Dodgers would even want in return. Seager is seen as getting 7.1 million in arbitration, so he has a reasonable contract for a player who is in the upper 25 percent of MLB players production wise. And before someone says Seager was not the same player, that is obvious, but he still led the league in doubles despite missing time, and had 87 ribbies which was 3rd on the team behind Muncy and Belli. I see no need to trade him this off season. Maybe next year if they are hell bent to do it. Jose Martinez dealt to the Rays by the Cardinals for reliever Mathew Liberatore. and other pieces.

Leave a Reply