When the A's traded for Fautino De Los Santos (acquired along with Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney for Nick Swisher on January 3rd, 2008), De Los Santos was a 21 year old pitcher with an electric mid-90s fastball, an above average slider, very good command, and the projection to be a #2 starter -- maybe an ace if things rolled right. Well they didn't.
In 2009, De Los Santos became just another bright prospect undergoing Tommy John surgery, his development delayed by 12-18 months and his future suddenly in full doubt. A lot of pitchers come back strong from Tommy John surgery. The flip side is, a lot of them don't. How did things work out for De Los Santos?
There are two important bits to note about Fautino De Los Santos, v.2010. One is that the A's have put him in the bullpen, where he may or may not stay. His current upside is not that of an ace, but rather that of a closer. However, it remains unknown whether the move to the bullpen is permanent or is just considered the best course for him right now.
The other bit worth noting about De Los Santos is that he is pitching great.
In 12 appearances for single-A Stockton earlier this year, De Los Santos dominated his 15.2 IP, allowing 13 hits and posting a 2.30 ERA. Most significantly, he walked only 3 while striking out 22. He also had a strong GO/AO ("outs on the ground to outs in the air") ratio of 1.44.
Promoted to AA Midland, De Los Santos has made 15 appearances totaling 20.1 IP. His ERA is not shiny (5.75) but don't be fooled -- his high ERA is largely the result of one bad outing and does not tell the story. In 20.1 IP, De Los Santos has allowed 18 hits, walking 8 and striking out 34. A K/BB ratio of better than 4:1 in AA, and a K/9IP ratio of 15.05, are nothing to sneeze at.
He's also getting better. Here is De Los Santos' line from his last 5 appearances in Midland: 5.2 IP, 1 hit, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K. This is a guy who was known, pre Tommy John surgery, for having "first class" stuff and a very bright major league future. He may have lost a couple years in time, but he may not have lost his electric stuff. And even with a rather significant setback, he's still only 24 years old and navigating his second minor league season.
It remains to be seen whether De Los Santos' future in Oakland might come in 2011 as a bullpen "power arm," or whether he is stretched out to compete for a spot in, say, the 2012 rotation. What is clear is that De Los Santos, after a long, winding, painful, and scary journey through injury and recovery, has put himself back in the conversation as a pitcher who could make an impact in Oakland sooner rather than later.
Get out to the Coliseum tonight! Not since 2006 have the A's played an August game that mattered in the standings. The A's might need to sweep the series in order to be in the race, but until Texas wins one the A's are very much alive. Cliff Lee vs. Dallas Braden tonight -- and we know whose mound it is.