By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Gregory Santos wanted to be an outfielder because he liked to hit.

But at age 11, Santos began proving he belonged on the mound.

At 16, Santos, with his 90-plus mile per hour fastball, caught the eye of a Boston Red Sox scout. He signed with the organization on Aug. 28, 2015 for $275,000.

With his newfound wealth, Santos bought his family a home in the Dominican Republic and opened a grocery store for his parents.

“We always think that way in the Dominican Republic,” said Hector Borg, Santos’ manager with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. “When we sign, we always want to buy a house for our mom and dad and  want them to be comfortable. Because 85 percent and maybe more of the players from the Dominican, we come from the bottom.”

Santos grew up in San Cristóbal, the birthplace of former Major League Baseball players Raúl Mondesí and José Guillén.

Pitching for the Red Sox Dominican Summer League team in 2016, Santos went 3-3 with a 4.17 ERA over 41 innings.

Watching his teammates get called up to the United States, Santos was determined to improve in 2017.

Santos was 2-0 with a 0.89 ERA over 30 innings when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants on July 26 as part of deal for major leaguer Eduardo Nunez.

Pitching for the Giants Dominican Republic affiliate, Santos continued to thrive, posting a 1.93 ERA in four starts.

At 18, Santos made his United States debut with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on Saturday, June 16, striking out two of the first three Tri-City batters.

“I was ready to go,” said Santos with Borg interpreting. “I wasn’t afraid as soon as I stepped on the mound.”

After retiring the first six hitters, Santos allowed two runs in the top of the third inning on a walk, error and wild pitch.

He then allowed his first hit in the fourth and was pulled with no outs in the fifth after giving up a two-run homer.

Santos earned his first win on Thursday, June 21 at Boise. He allowed three hits, no runs and struck out five batters over five innings.

Santos improved to 2-0 on Tuesday, June 27, allowing three runs over six innings in a 10-5 win over Eugene.

Through three starts, Santos has struck out 14 batters in 15 innings and posted a 3.00 ERA.

“It’s much different,” Santos said of pitching in the United States. “You play with fans in the stands. In the Dominican, only your family goes and watches the game, 10-15 people. It’s better baseball with more experience and I’m enjoying it a lot.”

With his fastball reaching 97 miles per hour and an improving curveball and changeup, Santos has climbed up to 13th in MLB’s San Francisco Giants top prospect list.

“I’m more focused on being a big leaguer than being on the list,” Santos said. “I’m not focused on the list. I’m focused on being the best player I can be.”