Sox Drawer: The Santiago screwball


Sox Drawer: The Santiago screwball

For five years, Hector Santiago toiled in the White Sox farm system making a slow, gradual climb from Bristol to Kannapolis to Winston-Salem to Birmingham. Selected by the White Sox in the 30th round of the 2006 draft, he was concerned that he had reached his ceiling in the organization. He was good, not great. Translation: nothing special. Where will that get you? Usually not the majors. More often baseball's graveyard, where thousands of careers eventually go to die.

Santiago saw his baseball future and was concerned it would soon be on life support. So at the start of the 2011 season, he did something about it.

"I had nothing to lose," Santiago said in an interview inside the visiting clubhouse in Texas. "I was going into my fifth season as a minor league player and I was like, 'Let's try to get something in my arsenal that can make me better, get me noticed a little more and stand out.'"

The solution for Santiago was to learn how to throw a screwball, a deceptive and difficult pitch to master which breaks in the opposite direction of a curveball. Thrown by a lefty like Santiago, it goes from right to left, moving down and in on a left-handed batter, and down and away to a right-hander. Thrown properly, the ball can move as much as two feet.

Christy Mathewson was the first prominent pitcher to use the screwball in the early 1900's. Carl Hubbell threw it in the 1934 All-Star Game when he famously struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.

Fernando Venezuela and Tug McGraw later made careers hurling the screwball. However, in the last 25 years, it's almost become a dinosaur -- pretty much extinct from the game.


Because the hand and arm movement is so unnatural, you can permanently damage your arm and elbow.

"I have a couple friends that are left-handed, but they won't get into it," Santiago said. "They're afraid of injury."

But not Santiago. He's willing to take the chance. That baseball cemetery is a few miles away. At 24-years-old, he's willing to risk it and so far he's succeeding.

In spring training, he was nothing short of dominant, giving up one run over 11 innings while striking out 13. Opposing batters routinely went back to the dugout shaking their heads in disbelief, losing Santiago's game of "Now You See it, Now You Don't."

"I guess it's been so effective because it's not really seen anymore," Santiago said. "It's something hitters haven't seen and I actually throw it for a strike, and can bury it when I want to. It's coming from the left side, and it's actually almost like a right-handed pitch."

When the White Sox arrived in Texas to start the regular season, there were rumblings that Santiago had won the job as closer, but manager Robin Ventura didn't want to announce it and put added pressure on the young rookie. Saturday night against the defending A-L Champion Rangers, the suspense came to a dramatic conclusion when Santiago entered the game in the bottom of the ninth, nursing a 4-3 lead, and pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning for his first career save.

"This is a huge opportunity," he said after the game. "I'll do everything in my power I can to stay in this role, and succeed."

But as history proves, throwing a screwball has an expiration date, and hopefully a lot longer than a carton of milk.

"I try not to think about it," Santiago said of the injury potential. "I go in the weight room and I get my shoulder program done and try to do all the extra stuff to maintain and be able to keep doing it without getting injured. Just try to do a little extra when you have to just to prevent that."

If Santiago can stay healthy, and he continues to baffle hitters, suddenly the White Sox have quite a weapon in the back of their bullpen.

And that career that once seemed headed for a baseball obituary, will be given a brand new life.

White Sox: Chris Getz's new player development role is to carry out 'vision of the scouts'

White Sox: Chris Getz's new player development role is to carry out 'vision of the scouts'

He may be limited on experience, but Chris Getz already has a strong idea about player development.

Getz -- who on Friday was named the White Sox director of player development -- worked the past two seasons as an assistant to baseball operations in player development for the Kansas City Royals. A fourth-round pick of the White Sox in the 2005 amateur draft, Getz replaces Nick Capra, who earlier this month was named the team’s third-base coach. A quick learner whom a baseball source said the Royals hoped to retain, Getz described his new position as being “very task oriented.”

“(The job) is carrying out the vision of the scouts,” Getz said. “The players identified by the scouts and then they are brought in and it’s a commitment by both the player and staff members to create an environment for that player to reach their ceiling.

“It’s a daily process.”

Getz, a University of Michigan product, played for the White Sox in 2008 and 2009 before he was traded to the Royals in a package for Mark Teahen in 2010. Previously drafted by the White Sox in 2002, he described the organization as “something that always will be in my DNA.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Getz stayed in Kansas City through 2013 and began to consider a front-office career as his playing career wound down. His final season in the majors was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore hired Getz as an assistant to baseball operations in January 2015 and he quickly developed a reputation as both highly intelligent and likeable, according to a club source.

“He is extremely well-regarded throughout the game, and we believe he is going to have a positive impact on the quality of play from rookie ball through Chicago,” GM Rick Hahn said.

Getz had as many as four assistant GMs ahead of him with the Royals, who couldn’t offer the same kind of position as the White Sox did. Getz spent the past week meeting with other members of the White Sox player development staff and soon will head to the team’s Dominican Republic academy. After that he’ll head to the Arizona Fall League as he becomes familiar with the department. Though he’s still relatively new, Getz knows what’s expected of his position.

“It’s focused on what’s in front of you,” Getz said. “Player development people are trying to get the player better every single day.”

“With that being said, the staff members need to be creative in their thinking. They need to be innovative at times. They need to know when to press the gas or pump the brakes. They need to be versatile in all these different areas.”

White Sox name Chris Getz Director of Player Development

White Sox name Chris Getz Director of Player Development

The White Sox announced on Friday they have named former MLB infielder Chris Getz as Director of Player Development.

Getz replaces Nick Capra, who after five seasons in his position was named the White Sox third base coach on Oct. 14.

The 33-year-old Getz has spent the last two years with the Kansas City Royals as a baseball operations assistant/player development in which he assisted in minor-league operations and player personnel decisions.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

“I'm excited about the opportunity to help teach and develop young talent in the organization where my professional career began,” Getz said in a press release. “I was drafted twice, worked through the minor leagues, and reached the major leagues with the White Sox. Through this journey, I was able to gain an understanding of the individuals within this organization, who I respect greatly.  The director of player development is an important role, and the health of the minor-league system is vital for major-league success.  I look forward to putting my all into making the White Sox a strong and winning organization.”
White Sox Senior VP/general manager Rick Hahn added: “We are pleased to add Chris’ intellect, background and energy to our front office. He is extremely well-regarded throughout the game, and we believe he is going to have a positive impact on the quality of play from rookie ball through Chicago.”

Getz, originally a fourth-round selection by the White Sox in the 2005 MLB Draft out of Michigan, played in seven MLB seasons with the White Sox (2008-09), Royals (2010-13) and Blue Jays (2014).

Getz had a career slash line of .250/.309/.307 with three home runs, 111 RBI and 89 stolen bases.