Whether it’s as starter or reliever, good guy Hector Santiago will do what White Sox ask
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com February 18, 2013 10:47PM
Chicago White Sox Vs Cleveland Indians. White Sox starting pitcher No. 53 Hector Santiago. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: March 20, 2013 6:29AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Left-hander Hector Santiago’s willingness and ability to fill many roles make him a valuable piece of the White Sox’ pitching staff. His readiness to lend a helping hand off the field shows he’s a pretty good guy, too.
Santiago flew to Chicago from Puerto Rico, where he was playing winter ball, in November to address minority high school players in the Sox’ ACE program who were signing Division I scholarships. He also has visited cancer patients and participated in other charity events.
Santiago received some national attention in January, when he initiated a visit from his home in Newark, N.J., to Newtown, Conn., to meet with kids from a Catholic elementary school near where the Sandy Hook shootings took place. Many of the kids at the school know the families affected by the tragedy, and Santiago — recalling how he was shaken as a kid by 9/11 — wanted to do something.
‘‘When we had our tragedy in New York, we were looking for somebody,’’ Santiago said. ‘‘I just wanted to talk to the kids and give them a good day. As they were coming up for autographs, it was all smiles the whole time. It was nice to see.’’
Santiago, who grew up in a tight-knit family with four siblings and a hardworking father who spent many of his waking his hours playing baseball with his kids, was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico the day of the Sandy Hook shootings.
‘‘I thought, ‘There are families that will never see their kids again,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘If my brother [Sox farmhand Anthony Santiago] never walked into the house, I would
never be the same.
‘‘When I talked to a few parents in Newtown, they started breaking down. I know my story about persevering through a lot of trials in minor-league baseball doesn’t compare, but I just wanted to tell them to keep fighting to get over the hump.’’
A 30th-round draft choice by the Sox in 2006, Santiago had limited success for four years in Class A. He took a step forward in 2011, was promoted to Class AA Birmingham and made an impression when he was called up to the Sox for two
In 2012, he was the surprise winner of the derby to be the Opening Day closer. He converted four of his six save opportunities before giving way to Addison Reed and eventually went back to Class AAA Charlotte to get stretched out as a starter. When he came back to the Sox, Santiago was 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in four starts.
‘‘It was a crazy ride last year,’’ Santiago said. ‘‘It was a maturing stage, a learning experience of starting to slow down the game, learning to throw to all the big-league hitters. In the minor leagues, every lineup has, like, two good hitters. Here, you have to face every guy like he’s the best guy in the lineup.’’
This spring, Santiago is waiting in the wings to find out what his role will be. If left-hander John Danks isn’t deemed to be 100 percent ready by Opening Day or left-hander Jose Quintana wavers, Santiago is the top candidate to step into the starting rotation.
‘‘Whatever they ask me to do,’’ Santiago said. ‘‘Starting would be fun the whole year, but if they want me to start one day and be back in the bullpen two days later, I’ll do that. I talked to [pitching coach Don Cooper], and he’s like: ‘You have to be ready for any role. You might start the season in the rotation, or you might be in the bullpen as a long guy. You’re going to be a guy throwing a lot because we need you to be ready for a rotation spot.’
‘‘I’m mentally prepared for every-
thing right now. With Danks and Quintana, be ready for that sixth-guy role.’’