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White Sox acquire Gregory Santos

The electric-armed young reliever should have an opportunity to claim an Opening Day bullpen spot

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Francisco Giants
The White Sox were so hyped to get at Gregory Santos, they hopped the waiver line to make a deal directly with San Francisco.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The White Sox have struck their first player exchange of the offseason, acquiring 23-year-old relief pitcher Gregory Santos from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for 26-year-old minor league right-hander Kade McClure.

Santos was designated for assignment by the Giants on Monday, and the White Sox, who are 15th in the league’s waiver order, could have simply submitted a claim and hoped the 14 teams worse than them in 2022 would pass him up. However, they clearly valued his talent enough to bypass that risk and jump the line via trade. McClure, who was eligible for the Rule 5 draft this past month but went unselected, isn’t considered a candidate to be a regular major leaguer. The sixth-round draft pick out of Louisville in 2017 posted a 5.52 ERA over 124 Triple-A innings (53 appearances, 14 starts) in 2021-22, striking out a solid 132 hitters and walking 43.

It’s easy to see why Rick Hahn decided to be proactive: Santos still has more upside remaining than the majority of players hitting the waiver wire, having appeared in the Top 10 of some San Francisco prospect lists as recently as preseason 2022, and being placed on SF’s 40-man roster before ever pitching above Low-A ball. That’s because Santos more or less immediately has one of the most electric fastballs in the White Sox system. It averaged an absurd 98.8 mph in his brief stint with the Giants this past year, and clocked in at 97.7 mph on average a year earlier. Because it doesn’t spin very efficiently or at an upright angle, however, the pitch acts more like a sinker than a four-seamer. As a result, it doesn’t miss nearly as many bats as you’d anticipate from that velocity, a primary reason he’s only struck out 7.9 hitters per nine innings in his pro career.

Why does that make him worth their confidence more than the numerous other hard-throwing, control-lacking relievers that hit routinely hit the wire? There’s also this:

OK! OK! That’s something! Santos’ high-80s slider comes with a substantial amount of bite; It’s not a true “sweeper,” the goldilocks breaking ball that smart teams are teaching all over the league, but its up-down and side-to-side movement are both solidly above-average. The slider’s properties also line up well to some of the better ones in the game: I ran it through Alex Chamberlain’s awesome pitch comparison tool to get a quick sense of what “type” of breaking ball this is. You’re going to like the results:

Santos’ control may ultimately leave him taking up the mantle of the Maikel Cletos and Michael Ynoas of Sox history, but it’s not too difficult to zoom in on what the Sox seem to be seeing. Whatever Ethan Katz may have in mind for the young righthander, he’ll be getting a potent late-inning arm if it works. With multiple spots at the end of the bullpen up for grabs, the fact that the team was willing to proactively prevent Santos from landing somewhere else indicates he has a good chance of receiving an opportunity to live up to his upside on the Opening Day roster.

That being said, there’s still room for plenty more competition. The team’s 40-man roster now sits at 38 players, and names such as José Ruiz, Carlos Pérez, Bennett Sousa, Nicholas Padilla, and Rule 5 pick Nick Avila are all candidates for the waiver wire should a spot become necessary. If the team acquires another catcher, as has been rumored this offseason, the out-of-options Seby Zavala is also likely to be designated for assignment. On the flip side, an additional spot will be opened up when Garrett Crochet is transferred to the 60-day IL at the season’s outset.

Oscar Colás is currently not on the 40-man roster, and will presumably be added perhaps as early as Spring Training. Whomever between Billy Hamilton and Victor Reyes emerges victorious in the team’s fourth-outfielder competition will also need to be added to the roster. Looking farther ahead, other high-minors prospects such as Yolbert Sánchez, Yoelqui Céspedes, Drew Dalquist, Matthew Thompson, and Sean Burke will all be Rule 5-eligible next winter, and a breakout minor league showing from any of them could lead to their addition at some point this summer.

Spring Training starts in 64 days.

Post-publication update: Funny it didn’t make the White Sox press release, but there is another reason beyond charity that San Francisco was willing to trade a more electric arm in Santos for a more reliable (?) one in McClure: Santos was popped for some serious steroiding in 2021.

This isn’t a case of a player misreading a label or failing to report banned but circumstantially-legal medication, no, Santos took Stanozolol, a synthetic steroid derived from testosterone. He had pitched for the Giants for in three April 2021 games, but was in Triple-A when the 80-game suspension was announced.