Sergio Santos made an unplanned detour on his way home from a baseball workout last weekend and rediscovered the simplicity of the sport he loves best.
Santos, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior at Santa Ana Mater Dei High, is a smooth-fielding, power-hitting shortstop regarded as a potential first-round selection in June's amateur draft.
Burdened occasionally by the expectations that come with that status, Santos pulled his car into Manzanita Park near his family's home in Hacienda Heights and took in the joy displayed by Little Leaguers.
"Watching those kids, I remembered when I was their age and how much fun it is to play this game," Santos said. "Seeing them out there, with no worries, I forgot about the expectations and the scouts. It sounds silly, but it reminded me about how simple the game is."
Santos, ranked No. 7 on Baseball America magazine's list of top 100 high school prospects, has a knack for making the difficult look easy on a baseball diamond. His physique, arm strength and movement in the field and at the plate put observers in mind of Texas Ranger shortstop Alex Rodriguez, Santos' favorite player.
"Santos is a man among boys, and has played like that for a few years," said La Puente Bishop Amat Coach Kenny Kendrena, whose top-ranked team will play Mater Dei on March 26.
Santos, who has signed a letter of intent with USC, began his high school career at Hacienda Heights Los Altos. But after hitting over .500 on the varsity as a freshman and impressing scouts at the annual Area Code games, he decided to transfer to Mater Dei.
"He was pretty developed when he got here," Mater Dei Coach Burt Call said. "There were some things he needed to work on but he was someone who could swing the bat really well. I haven't messed with his swing at all."
Santos batted .440 with eight home runs and 29 runs batted in as a sophomore, raising his profile with scouts and college coaches even higher. Last year, he hit .448 with three homers, 23 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. Call said Santos' homer total dipped because teams pitched around him. But Santos said he could have done better.
"Baseball is a humbling sport," he said. "My junior season prepared me for the summer because it reminded me, 'Don't believe all the hype. You still have to strap on your cleats and work.'"
Last summer, Santos played shortstop and third base for the U.S. 18-and-under junior national team that finished second in the Pan American qualifying tournament in Cuba. He hit .286 with a homer and seven RBIs in 11 games. The U.S. lost to Cuba, 3-2, in the title game, but qualified for this year's World Junior Championships in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
"The intensity of the fans in Cuba was incredible," Santos said. "There were 10,000 to 15,000 there and it was a great experience. I think it prepared me well for what's coming up this season and the future."
Santos is one of several key players for a Mater Dei team that also features experienced pitching and solid defense. The Monarchs open their season today against Corona del Mar.
"I'm looking forward to a great year for our team and for myself," Santos said. "I'm just going to go out there and enjoy playing the game like the Little League kids do."
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Top five Southland seniors ranked among the top 100 high school prospects by Baseball America:
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