Ex-Saint Santos hitting his stride in Triple-A
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
FRESNO, Calif — It was "Making the Grade Day" yesterday under bright skies at Grizzlies Stadium.
It turned out to be a fitting promotion for Hawai'i's Chad Santos, the Fresno Grizzlies power-hitting first baseman, because in a sense, he is starting to make the grade as an all-around hitter at the Triple-A level.
Yesterday, before 11,287 mostly screaming youths from schools in the area (hence the promotion), the left-handed hitting Santos capped a four-run eighth inning with an opposite-field single to drive in the go-ahead run in a 5-4 win against his former club, the Omaha Royals, in a Pacific Coast League game.
Santos leads the Grizzlies with eight home runs, but chose to hit what right-hander Shane Loux offered rather than try to overpower the ball. It might have been a different story last year.
"I would have swung out of my, you know," Santos said. "I would've struck out or rolled over. I just want to stay consistent."
Santos is in his first year out of the Kansas City Royals organization, which drafted him in the 22nd round out of Saint Louis School in 1999. Frustrated that the Royals were moving other prospects ahead of him, despite hitting 95 home runs in seven seasons entering this season, Santos exercised his free agency rights and signed with the San Francisco Giants during the winter.
"I could see I wasn't going to have a future (with the Royals)," he said.
Despite hitting 16 home runs in 120 games for Omaha last season, Santos said the Royals gave more time toward the end of the season to Justin Huber, who started in left field for Omaha yesterday.
Santos, who also was invited to the big league camp as a non-roster invitee, said the Red Sox also showed interest in him. But he went with the Giants, particularly since Kalani graduate Lenn Sakata is their organization as the Single-A manager at San Jose.
"He told me some good things about the Giants and that they needed a first baseman," Santo said. "It's a good opportunity. I get to play every day."
The Giants had an eye on Santos since last year. Fresno manager Shane Turner was impressed with his fielding and power. But he knew Santos could be a tougher out if learned to use the whole field. Yesterday's clutch hit was a perfect example, Turner said. He recommended the Giants sign him.
"We're not talking about a 26- or 27-year-old," Turner said. "He's still 24. There's still some time (to develop)."
Santos, who actually turned 25 on April 28, has come a long way from the raw power hitter he was in high school. With the annual Sugar Mill Classic coming up on Monday, he is remembered for a prodigious home run he hit over a tree in right field at Hans L'Orange Park in the inaugural game that features graduating high school seniors. It was estimated to have gone some 450 feet.
"That was a long time ago," Santos said. "I didn't know nothing about baseball then."
While his career with the Royals didn't pan out, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Santos says he would not have gotten this far if it weren't for Royals' scout Eric Tokunaga, who signed him.
"He's a good man," Santos said. "He gave me a chance to show what I had. I don't think (the other) scouts wanted an under-6-foot first baseman. They want 6-4. But he pushed for me and gave me the opportunity."
Santos still makes his home in Kane'ohe, but his wife, Jessica, and 5-year-old daughter, Kamalani, stay with him in Fresno. They are expecting a second child during the offseason.
There are also sorts of Hawai'i ties with the Grizzlies. Pitcher Brandon Villafuerte was born on the Big Island, although raised in California. He was the beneficiary of Santos' RBI because he picked up the win with 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. Grizzlies second baseman Jed Hansen is the older brother of former UH Rainbow Lars Hansen, who also was drafted out of UH the same year Santos was drafted. Also, the Grizzlies play-by-play man is Doug Greenwald, the son of former Hawaii Islanders play-by-play announcer Hank Greenwald. The younger Greenwald also did play-by-play for the West Oahu Cane Fire of the first version of the Hawaii Winter League.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at email@example.com.