Dodgers pick Santana no stranger to game
Father Rafael, a former Major Leaguer, shaped son's career
In his gut, Alex Santana had a feeling.
As the third baseman from Cape Coral, Fla., watched the Dodgers prepare to make a pick in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft, he thought to himself, "L.A. would be a good place to go."
Seconds later, his name was announced as the 73rd overall selection -- the Dodgers' lone second-round pick -- and he and his family erupted into cheering and celebration around the computer screen.
As ecstatic as the 17-year-old Santana said he was to hear his name called, he said his parents were even more excited. And his father, Rafael, knows a thing or two about baseball. Rafael Santana spent seven seasons in the big leagues during the 1980s and played shortstop on the '86 Mets team that won the World Series.
After he retired, the elder Santana spent time coaching in the Minor Leagues, most recently in the Chicago White Sox organization. When he did so, Santana always brought his son along.
"He had us do everything that they did except for play the games," the younger Santana said of his father. "I'm probably 11 or 12 years old at that time. I always liked being out there, and I knew that's what I wanted to do from Day 1. Mentally, I think I might be a little more advanced than a lot of players."
Santana's father now serves as the White Sox head of scouting and player development in the Dominican Republic. When asked about the potential Major League ability of his son, who hit .402 with four home runs and 29 RBIs in his senior season at Mariner High School, the elder Santana tried to take an objective stance.
"I'll put my fatherhood aside, and I think he has some pretty good talent -- the talent to be a five-tool player," Rafael said. "He's 17 years old, so he has to work still on every aspect of his game. But he has the advantage of having worked with me. He's been there, and the talent is there."
Dodgers assistant general manager Logan White certainly thinks so.
White called Santana a potential "cornerstone at third base," adding that as Santana matures, he sees the line-drive swing turning into a powerful one.
"I'm excited about Mr. Santana," White said. "With his father being an ex-big league shortstop, I'm always a big fan of bloodlines. He's actually a lot taller than his father. He's got a frame to fill out, he's rangy -- he's a very smart kid."
Santana was drafted as a third baseman, but he possesses what high school coach Steve Larsen called an outfielder's arm. Larsen said that given Santana's athleticism and his power potential, he wouldn't be surprised to see a move to the outfield.
Santana also played some shortstop in high school, but Larsen said the youngster's 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame might prevent him from doing so in professional ball. What Larsen said most impressed him was Santana's baseball IQ, no doubt a product of growing up around the game.
But Larsen noted that Santana is only 17, and despite his great baseball instincts, his talent is still very raw.
"He has a lot of room to grow," Larsen said. "He has a high ceiling. He's still young. It's just an issue whether playing baseball every day is going to reap those rewards, and I believe it is."
Despite posting an average over .400, Santana called his season "so-so." Larsen agreed, saying that with Santana's potential, he could have done more, especially with his power numbers.
But Larsen attributed the relative mediocrity to how often opposing pitchers pitched around Santana and the quality of opponents in Lee County. Santana said he fared well against some of the more highly touted pitchers he faced but went into a pair of slumps that hurt his stats.
"I had higher expectations," Santana said. "I know myself as a player, and I know what I can be. I could have been a lot better than that in my eyes. I'm never satisfied."
But for today, at least, his father is.
"It makes me proud because he's trying to follow my steps," Rafael Santana said. "And it's something that makes me excited that he'll have a great career, and he's got the whole world in front of him. He's got the talent to be a good ballplayer."
AJ Cassavell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.