For the Orioles, the building of the elite talent pipeline on the farm begins for many kids out of the spotlight and in the lower minors.
That is where they try and take their talent and a good learning process and put the two together to start a career toward Baltimore. One that can take a long time and have ups and downs along the way.
For kids from the Dominican Republic, that process starts in the Dominican Summer League and they eventually make their way to the United States to full-season affiliated baseball, where they hope to start to put themselves on the map. That is happening this year with a right-hander that turns 20 today.
He is Juan De Los Santos, from San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. In his first year of full-season ball with low Single-A Delmarva, De Los Santos is showing a fastball touching 97 mph and maybe more importantly, showing how eager he is to learn and grow as a player, soaking up every resource available to him.
It is a nice start to a career that began in the DSL in 2019, was interrupted by the cancelled 2020 minor league season, but continued last summer in the rookie-level Florida Complex League where he pitched to an ERA of 3.83 in 45 innings.
What makes this story even more interesting is he is what they call a “late bloomer” signing from the July 2, 2018 international class. De Los Santos was signed by the Orioles and their then new-on-the-job senior director of international scouting Koby Perez on March 7, 2019 for $25,000. That was money left over from the previous July and previous front office regime after Perez was hired in January of 2019 by O’s executive vice-president and general manager Mike Elias.
This signing came even before their first celebrated J2 day signings from July 2, 2019 when Elias/Perez were thrilled to announce the signings of 27 international amateurs from five countries. They got this kid even before that big day. He was one of the first players Perez signed for his new team.
In eight starts this year for the Shorebirds, De Los Santos is 1-4 with a 2.50 ERA. Over 36 innings, he has allowed 27 hits and just two homers, with 15 walks, 39 strikeouts, a 1.17 WHIP and .209 average against. He gave up one earned run or less in each of his first six starts. Among O’s pitchers with 20 or more innings on the farm thus far, De Los Santos ranks No. 1 in ERA and No. 8 in WHIP.
Delmarva pitching coach Joe Haumacher, in his third year with the Orioles, worked with De Los Santos last season in Florida and is also his pitching coach now with the Shorebirds.
“One of his first outings in Florida last year, he was throwing really hard and kind of spraying it all over,” Haumacher remembered this week during a phone interview. “And we mentioned to him, ‘Hey let’s focus on getting in the zone and then after you get in the zone maybe speeding it up.’ He looked at us and said “okay” and then did just that. Instead of four to six (94 to 96 mph), he was like 92 to 94 and was in the zone and slowly but surely started to command his harder fastball. It’s little things like that he’s learned really quickly and hasn’t had to learn a lesson two or three times before he had it down.”
Now Haumacher sees a youngster starting to harness a talented fastball that can range from 92 to 97 mph and showing an at times plus slider. He is working hard to make his changeup a solid third pitch.
“A heater with great velocity that he is learning how to spin consistently to get the movement he wants,” he said. “A really good hard slider. So far those have been really tearing up the league. As he gets the changeup going, I’m pretty sure his strikeout numbers are probably going to go through the roof.
“He is already developing a feel for reading hitters and where their attention might be. Sometimes early in the count he’s 92, 93 and later the six and sevens show up. It’s almost like it’s two different pitches. He’s got a great feel for that as well.”
But throwing 97 by itself won’t take anyone to the major leagues. It takes more, like learning how to take the available technology and make it work for you. Learning how to get your body ready and keep it ready. De Los Santos is showing he can excel at that side of pitching too. Haumacher said it might be the one area he has shown the most growth during the 2022 season.
“It’s another level of ownership with his preparation,” he said. “He’s been a diligent guy in learning how his body works and putting in that work with Liz Pardo our strength coach and Julio (Ibarra) our trainer to get his arm and core care done. He’s real young and almost is setting an example for some of older guys of taking care of his arm, taking care of his core. Asking good questions. I think the biggest growth probably has come from his ownership of that process.
“And when you are in Florida and there are few fans and it’s all day games (in the FCL) and now he’s playing in front of fans and under the lights, I think that can be a little intimidating. But his early realization that his stuff plays at this level and that he can be good and the confidence he’s shown with that has been huge. He’s becoming a quiet leader because he is not outspoken.”
So, De Los Santos is off to a nice start in full season ball. He is showing promising talent. And he is taking all the resources the organization has added with data, tech and analytics and making that work for him too.
“Using it in ways that is helping is big for him,” said Haumacher. “Guys that really grasp the technology can sometimes use it to a point they don’t see what is in front of them. We don’t want that. We want them to always have a feel and awareness of what is in front of them and then use the tech as a help. That is where he is.
“He knows he’s spinning the ball a certain a way and he might look at the tech to see if he is doing it the right way. Sometimes you can’t get caught up in each rep on TrackMan. He takes it and uses it for a good learning process instead of watching every number. He has a really good learning process going. That started back at our Dominican Academy (in 2019) where he did the work with guys like Felipe (Rojas Alou Jr., now his Delmarva manager) and Anderson Tavarez (Latin American Pitching Supervisor).”
When building a top-ranked farm system, you need solid pitching depth up and down the organization. In De Los Santos, the Orioles might have found a diamond in the rough. A pitcher signed for a low dollar amount that is blossoming in Low-A right now in front of their eyes.
Rubber match game tonight: The bad news is that the Orioles last night could not hold a 5-3 lead in the seventh or a 6-5 lead in the 11th. This time, they were on the short side of a walk-off, losing 7-6 to the Yankees in 11.
The Orioles (18-26) lost for the second time in six games and ninth time in the last 14. They fell to 4-8 against New York and to 8-13 in AL East games.
But they are 5-1 this year in rubber match games, including a 3-0 mark against division teams. And tonight they play another one after splitting the first two games in the series. The Orioles lost a rubber game to the Brewers, but have series-ending wins in such games against the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Royals and Cardinals.
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