Under the Radar Prospects: Dilan Rosario & Ghordy Santos
A pair of hopefuls require your attention
Photo Credit: Freek Bouw, Phrake Photography | @phrakephoto
These are heady times for shortstop prospects in the Giants’ system. Obviously, the #1 guy anybody mentions when it comes to Giants prospect talent is Marco Luciano, one of a small handful of best shortstop prospects in the system. Just behind him (or, likely, just in front of him in High-A this spring) is 2019 1st rounder Will Wilson, who has gotten a lot of play this spring and could rise quickly through the system. Further below, the Giants have been handing out some big money contracts the last couple of years to teenagers like Aeverson Arteaga, Anthony Rodriguez, and Diego Velasquez. And now we have word that in the 2021 J2 class, the Giants will once again go shopping in the $2 million range to sign Bahamian switch-hitting shortstop Ryan Reckley.
Somewhat obscured in the middle of all that high-priced talent are a pair of toolsy youngsters who deserve your attention. So today, let’s try an “under the radar” twofer, highlighting two exciting up-the-middle talents whom those Northern Californians among you may well be seeing this summer at Excite Ballpark in San Jose.
I’ve spent a lot of time in these “under the radar” pieces talking about the types of players who fit the Giants current hitting philosophies — guys like Logan Wyatt and Jimmy Glowenke, who control the zone well and make good swing decisions. But today, we’re going to talk about tools. Both Rosario and Santos fit in the good old fashioned scouting world of young players with big tools who need to be taught how to turn those physical gifts into game skills. The result has been uneven on the field performances so far as teenagers (when, remember, they’ve been playing pro ball at the ages of freshman and sophomores in college), but both offer the potential to blossom into well-rounded players.
Ghordy Santos was signed on July 2, 2016. It wasn’t a great time for the Giants international development. They were under a penalty for the overslot signing of Lucius Fox that prevented them from signing any player for more than $300,000 (Santos was among several player who the Giants gave their $300k maximums to that year). But moreso, the program was stuck in a doldrums that hadn’t produced more than a “blink and you’d miss them” big leaguer since Pablo Sandoval. In the 2010s, the best talent that had come through the Giants international program belonged to arms that were used in small trades, most of whom would go on to small major league careers (Adalberto Mejia, Keury Mella, Kendry Flores). The best of these, Luis Castillo, was miscast as a single inning reliever and included in as a toss in flyer (behind Flores) in the Casey McGehee deal. It was a bad time for the Giants international development.
Within that context, Santos quickly struck Giants Dominican coaches with his quick-twitch athleticism. In the summer of his signing (a year before he made his debut), I was already hearing word from Giants sources that the organization was impressed particularly by Santos’ actions on defense, where he showed exceptionally quick feet, soft hands, and a bullet arm. Offensively, the switch-hitter was much more of a work in progress and that progress didn’t show itself over two seasons in the Dominican Summer League.
There were certain hints of potential. Though he hit just .219 over 109 games, when he did make contact, he flashed extra-base power. Over a third (27 of 76) of his hits in the DSL went for extra bases, including 4 HRs; good for an Isolate Slugging of .112. Not bad for the age-equivalent of a high school junior. He also showed a discerning eye at the plate, walking more than he struck out (90 to 89) over 448 PA. The fact remained, however, that future big leaguers tend to hit better than .220 against the extremely low-level pitching competition of the DSL.
Talking to The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, Santos would later say (through an interpreter) of those two seasons, “If I struck out or made an error at 17, it affected me… I had to learn to give myself that five-second walk to the dugout to put those feelings away.”
Still, the Giants continued to like his athleticism, his defensive actions, his energy, and his maturity. Even after a second disappointing season in the Dominican, Santos was invited to spring training in Scottsdale in 2019, and it was apparent that he was becoming a more mature player. Kyle Haines, the Giants scouting director, frequently pointed to Santos when talking about standouts at the Giants minor league camp, telling John Shea of the SF Chronicle, “We feel we made a lot of developmental progress with him, and he showed that in the Arizona League…He’s got good tools, can run and has a good glove with a lot of energy.”
In the 2019 extended spring training, Santos quickly established a rapport with Luciano and the two became close friends. But the Giants separated the pair on their two AZL teams to allow Santos, the more natural defender, to get in more reps at SS (though he ended up still playing a good deal of 2b in deference to Rosario, who we’ll get to in a moment). When the 2019 AZL season got underway, Santos once again showed off his ability to pick it, but he also showed a new-found consistency at the plate, posting a .314/.398/.430 line over 98 PA and finishing strong by hitting .395 over his final 10 games. He still walked at a good clip (though the strikeouts jumped up as well) and showed some power, mostly doubles power in the gaps. Still, Baseball America’s Bill Mitchell, the dean of AZL observers, tagged him as a name to remember, saying Santos “can be electric on the field.”
Before the 2020 spring camp was shut down, Santos was doing enough to impress the Giants that he made a few trips to Scottsdale Stadium to fill out the bench for early Giants games. Once again, Haines frequently pointed him out as a camp standout, and praised his maturity and energy. “He’s had tools since we signed him,” Haines told MLB’s Jonathan Mayo, “but never quite put them together in a couple of summers in the DSL. This last year, he really started to put them together on the field and it’s translating to better performance and the improvement has been evident here as well.”
As with all prospects, the canceled minor league season of 2020 was a tremendous lost opportunity for Santos to take his maturing game to the next level and begin to put himself on the prospect map. But 2021 promises to give him an opportunity to really shine, probably in San Jose. Playing nearly the entire season at 21 (he’ll turn 22 in September), Santos is at approximately the age and development of many of this year’s college juniors who will be drafted and integrated into pro ball later in the summer. And like them, his full game is just starting to blossom.
Throughout the 2010s, the Giants regularly made a habit of drafting young high school academy players out of Puerto Rico. Starting with Johneshwy Fargas in 2013, the Giants drafted one or two high schoolers out of Puerto Rico in every draft until 2020. Invariably, the players they selected were young for their high school class (usually just 17) and more toolsy than accomplished on the field. Of course, the apex of their forays into Puerto Rico was 2017’s 1st round selection of Heliot Ramos. But two years later, they returned to Ramos’ alma mater, the Leadership Christian Academy of Guaynabo for their 6th round selection, Dilan Rosario.
Like Ramos, Rosario had been a mainstay of the high school showcase circuit, with repeated appearances at Perfect Game events, where he especially stood out for his speed. Rosario frequently ran the top 60 yard time at events (6.4), sitting comfortably in the 99th percentile for his class. He also showed some projectible strength and was highly rated for his defensive actions in the middle of the diamond. Going into the 2019 spring season, Perfect Game listed him as a preseason High School All American for their “Canada-Puerto Rico” region (is that really a region, Perfect Game?). After the Giants had selected Rosario that summer, Jim Callis told me that he thought Rosario’s defensive abilities represented the “most reliable tool” of all the Giants second day draft picks that year (in other words, after Hunter Bishop).
But then something of a weird Freaky Friday switch took over Rosario in his pro debut. The formerly smooth defender got some rocky reviews with the glove on the, admittedly, concrete hard infields of the Arizona League. Jason Pennini (now a scout for the Twins) was actually surprised when I told him of Rosario’s reputation as a strong defender, saying Rosario “didn’t show well defensively in my looks.” Similarly, Eric Longenhagen (who is based in the Scottsdale area and got lots of first-hand looks), wrote just last week that “Rosario has the pure athletic ability to play shortstop but has had some fundamental issues in my looks at him (both his hands and arm accuracy).”
But the issues with his erstwhile strong glove didn’t knock Rosario off of scouts’ radars because what he did show in the AZL was glimpses of plus power. Sixteen of Rosario’s 40 hits in his pro debut went for extra bases, including 5 home runs, and he showed off even more impressive strength in BP sessions. That isn’t necessarily to say it was a successful debut, as Rosario’s occasional shots were interspersed with waves and waves of empty swings. He struck out 72 times in just 201 PA (36%), enough to power a wind farm that could light up the southwest.
His swing had a more open stance and bigger leg kick during 2020 instructs, and I thought it led to some even bigger, more explosive swings, though the interplay of this kind of hack and Rosario’s already swing-happy approach adds volatility to his profile in my opinion.
Still, when an 18-year old with the athleticism to play in the middle of the infield flashes serious juice in his bat, it’ll capture scouts’ attention.
I sound like a broken record but it’s true for every player — the lost 2020 season was terribly timed for Rosario’s development. Overwhelmed in his first experience of pro ball, he really could have used the short-season platform offered by the former NWL as a transition platform to full-season ball. That season and that platform no longer exist, which means Rosario is going to need to show enough for a big leap up to full season ball (he’d start the year still at just 19) or else he’ll be stuck in a time loop, being held back for rookie ball in Scottsdale two years after making his debut on those same sun-baked fields.
Separated by just a year, Rosario’s and Santos’ development are connected. In 2019, the two teammates took most of the middle infield starts for the Giants’ AZL Black team, with Santos mostly shifting over to 2b in deference to Rosario. That ended up being something of a disservice to the gifted SS Santos, and possibly to Rosario as well, as he suffered through 21 errors in 44 games.
In an ideal world, the pair would have a team to go to where they could divvy up the lion’s share of starts at 2b and SS, this time with Santos playing most of the six-hole and Rosario getting more time in at 2b.
That ideal world probably doesn’t exist in 2021, however, at least not for awhile. If they’re to take the big step up into full-season ball, it is virtually certain that Santos and Rosario would be sharing the San Jose SS position with the Big Kahuna himself, Luciano. It’s possible that Rosario’s game skills are deemed too raw still for such a step, but I do think the Giants would like to see the soon-to-be 20 year old prove himself at the Low A level. That would set up a middle infield rotation of Luciano, Santos, and Rosario, in which Luciano takes the biggest cut of SS starts, while Santos and Rosario split time at 2b, with rest days and the DH available to get both some time at SS.
That would set up an electrifying prospect infield at San Jose, where the trio would likely be joined by Luis Toribio and perhaps Garrett Frechette or Connor Cannon. With Luis Matos probably patrolling CF (and Alex Canario making his return to the OF sometime in June), Excite Ballpark will certainly be living up to its name! Seriously, if you’re in the area, start planning your trips now!
And if, on your trips to see the Little Giants, you find your attention is being drawn to the bigger names of Luciano, Matos, Canario…don’t forget to pay attention to this lower-profile pair of Ghordy Santos and Dilan Rosario. There are some big league tools worth noting. It could well be that There R Giants in that combo.