Late transfer: Santiago Jr. a fast learner
Cubs' Draft pick switches from basketball, and is thriving
MILWAUKEE -- Benito Santiago played 20 seasons in the big leagues, beginning in 1986 with the San Diego Padres and ending in Pittsburgh in 2005.
His son, Benito Santiago Jr., hung out in Major League clubhouses, so it would seem natural that the kid would gravitate toward the game. Instead, Benito Jr. was interested in basketball. As a senior in high school, he averaged 18.5 points a game. He played at Miami Dade Community College, but he transferred to Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, Texas, to play basketball. Santiago did receive some interest from Division I schools.
On Wednesday, the Cubs picked Benito Jr. in the 31st round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. He's only played organized baseball for about 16 months.
"It's a great story," Lon Morris baseball coach Josh Stewart said on Thursday of Santiago, who could've been a wide receiver on a college football team, he's that fast. "He's an unbelievable athlete."
Santiago, who turns 21 on June 22, apparently started hanging out with some of the guys on the Lon Morris baseball team in 2009. He asked Stewart about possibly playing when the basketball season ended, which was in March. Santiago did well in the workouts. The baseball team had a couple of injuries and needed some help, so Stewart agreed to let the kid with the great bloodlines in.
"This is a kid who hadn't played baseball in six years," Stewart said.
Santiago played the final 20 games of the 2009 season with the Lon Morris team, and did better than OK. This year, he spent the entire season with the baseball team and hit .357 with five homers, 23 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. Those numbers will get a Major League scout's attention.
"He's such a great kid -- one of my favorites who I've ever coached," Stewart said.
Santiago now is 6-foot-5, and with his speed, would probably do well as a corner outfielder. He played first base this season with the college team.
"His dad said he could play third base," Stewart said.
Where the Cubs project Santiago has yet to be determined. He's got the genes for the game.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.