GLENDALE, Ariz. — Left-hander Hector Santiago said he planned this reunion with the White Sox on the first day of the offseason.
“We knew this was where we wanted to be from Day 1,’’ Santiago said Thursday, a day after signing a minor-league deal with an invitation to camp. “It’s a great place, it’s where I grew up. It’s where they gave me my first shot. So it’s nice to go back home.’’
Santiago, 30, gives the Sox an accomplished option as a left-handed long, or middle reliever, or possible starter thrown into the mix of a rotation that currently looks all right-handed with Carlos Rodon out for the early portion of the season.
Traded by the Sox to the Angels in a three-team deal that netted Adam Eaton after the 2013 season, Santiago posted a 3.55 ERA over 532⅔ innings through 2015 and made the All-Star team with the Angels in 2015. Santiago has struggled since then, in part because of a back issue, but comes to camp feeling healthy.
The rebuilding Sox were looking for affordable veteran help, and Santiago was looking to get his career back on track.
Santiago started, closed and pitched in long and middle relief with the Sox from 2011-13. Manager Robin Ventura called him his “Swiss army knife.”
Santiago’s role in 2018, assuming he makes the club, is uncertain.
“Let’s see what happens, what their plan is,’’ said Santiago, who was given a locker next to veterans James Shields, Joakim Soria, Miguel Gonzalez and his old friend Nate Jones. “I’m ready to take over any role they need me to.’’
Prospect Zavala catching on
While 2016 first-round draft pick Zack Collins remains the catcher of the future, keep an eye on Seby Zavala.
Zavala, a 12th-round pick out of San Diego State in 2015, took a significant step in 2017, leading all Sox minor leaguers with 21 homers and a slash line of .302/.376/.485 after a promotion from Class A Kannapolis to high Class A Winston-Salem.
He followed that up with another good showing in the Arizona Fall League and earned an invitation to his first major-league camp.
“I’m liking the way everything is going,’’ Zavala said on the first day. “I’m excited.’’
At Kannapolis in 2016, Zavala batted .259 with seven homers, but last season “some things clicked offensively,’’ he said.
“Like my hand position [which improved his launch angle], how to get more consistent power. And I was able to shorten up my slumps a little bit.’’
General manager Rick Hahn has mentioned Zavala, who ranks 29th on Baseball America’s top-30 White Sox list (Collins is No. 6), as one who could push his way to “catcher of the future” status.
“I have to improve on blocking, get that more consistent,’’ Zavala said. “And maybe pitch calling. Receiving, working with pitchers I think I have that down.’’
Meditation working for Kopech
Top pitching prospect Michael Kopech on meditating: “I meditate a lot and try to get into that state of mind. It helps me be relaxed in games and when training comes around.’’
Kopech started meditating in the minor leagues last season, “and I realized how beneficial it was for me personally, and I kept doing it throughout the offseason.’’
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