Tony Santillan has long since been on the Cincinnati Reds radar. The former second-round pick likely would have debuted in 2020 had the season not been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the right-hander’s major league moment came this season, and once he was transitioned to the bullpen, Santillan really began to shine.
Though he was a starter in the minor leagues, it has long been assumed that Santillan would eventually be turned into a high-leverage relief pitcher. After all, the Texas native possesses a fantastic fastball/ slider combination, but hasn’t really developed that third pitch.
Santillan received his call to the big leagues on June 13th and went 4.2 innings while striking out five batters. Santillan would start three more games before returning to Triple-A to make the transition from starter to reliever. In Santillan’s four starts, the right-hander went 1-2 with a 3.78 ERA over 16.2 innings.
Tony Santillan excelled once he transitioned to the Reds bullpen.
As a starter, Tony Santillan handled himself well for a rookie, but he found it difficult to escape even the fourth inning. Santillan was pulled twice after just three innings and in his final start of the 2021 season, the right-handed delivered a total of 75 pitches over three innings as he battled 18 San Diego Padres hitters.
With Vladimir Gutierrez emerging as a legitimate starter, the Reds’ rotation becoming healthy, and the bullpen losing key pieces, Santillan was sent down to Triple-A in order to prepare to be part of Cincinnati’s relief corps for the second-half of the season. When the hard-throwing Texan returned, he had a chip on his shoulder and was dominant in relief.
Tony Santillan looked the part of the team’s future closer. Santillan appeared in 22 games, racked up 26.2 innings, and posted an ERA of 2.36. The right-handed hurler recorded 36 punch outs while coming on in relief and owned a 12.15 K/9 and 33.3% strikeout-rate. That is flat-out getting it done.
David Bell became more trusting of his rookie reliever as well and entrusted Santillan with some higher-leverage situations as the season entered the final month. Santillan allowed just five hits and one earned in September and opponents were only hitting .109 while the former second-rounder struck out 17 of the 51 batters he faced that month.
Tony Santillan was expected to join the ranks of the Cincinnati Reds rotation this past season, and he did that. However, his long-term future might be as the team’s closer of the future. Look for Santillan to get the opportunity to start next season, but ultimately, he’ll end up as a reliever. I’m giving Santillan a B- for his rookie performance in 2021.