Originally Published: Shepherd Express
Kyle Lobner, Columnist
If the Milwaukee Brewers’ rebuild could be summed up in a single phrase, it would be “acquiring, developing and retaining young, controllable talent.” Sometimes that search for talent means looking in places you typically wouldn’t go for potential contributors that others might have overlooked.
That’s what the Brewers did last week when they signed former Southern University and independent league Sonoma Stompers pitcher Santos Saldivar. That move typically wouldn’t have drawn a lot of attention, but Saldivar and his Stompers teammates were recently featured in the book The Only Rule Is It Has To Work, which is about two longtime Baseball Prospectus writers’ season using advanced statistics to assemble a Pacific Association team.
Just a matter of hours into his affiliated professional career, we talked to Saldivar about his independent league experience, his new team and his goals for the season ahead.
What have the last few days been like for you as a new member of the Brewers organization?
I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. This is what I dreamed of as a kid. After I didn’t get drafted, I didn’t think I had a shot of being in affiliated ball. So I’m living the life and couldn’t complain.
Did you think you were done with baseball when you went undrafted following your senior season in college?
Yeah, I was just playing slow-pitch softball. For a good month and a half I didn’t pick up a baseball or anything.
Tell me about your time with the Sonoma Stompers. That’s probably not an organization that a majority of fans in Wisconsin are familiar with. What was it like pitching in that environment for a year?
It was awesome to have a team that went out there wanting to win every game. I hadn’t really had that in a good little while. So that was a great opportunity. I was meeting guys from all over, talking about their experiences from affiliated ball and different independent ball teams, and I grew up as a baseball player. Even though we only had two coaches, I basically had 20 older guys that were just teaching me the right way to play the game.
Your career with Sonoma drew a little more attention due to The Only Rule Is It Has To Work. Has that generated any extra attention for you, and what’s that been like?
I got calls and emails from guys that I didn’t even know knew about the Stompers, telling me how good of a book it was. I haven’t gotten all the way through the book, but the last few chapters are basically about the championship, the part I haven’t got to. But they told me it was a great article, that they weren’t expecting that out of a small independent team and from guys that got picked up just based on stats.
You mentioned getting picked up based on your stats. Since that time have you had a chance to talk to any scouts or anyone else about why you went undrafted?
What I basically figured, I’m only 5’8”, so I figured height was probably the big thing. And just from me coming from a small school (Southern University), even though I put up big numbers they come from a small Division 1 conference, guys don’t really get picked up from there unless they’ve got speed. All the guys that get picked up are center fielders or shortstops that run 6.2’s (in the 60-yard dash), and I’m definitely not a shortstop.
In the book excerpt I’ve seen, they talked about players who had moved on with their lives and decided not to pursue playing independent league baseball. What was the process like to decide to go play indy ball, and did you consider not going?
Actually, I really did consider not going. Just the fact that I was ok with…you know, I had a great college career, I got my degree. I was ok with being done with baseball. I was getting ready to have an office job. But the other thing that seemed intriguing to me was California. I had never been there, they told me they were going to pay for my flight to get up there, so I’m basically going to be playing with casino money. Why not go out there and see what I can do? It wasn’t coming out of my pocket, so why not? Why not give it a shot?
When did you first hear that the Brewers might be interested in signing you?
It’s a funny story: I was actually going back to Sonoma and had just landed in San Francisco. I was at the baggage claim grabbing my bags when my GM called me and basically asked me if I was interested, that the Brewers were interested in me and was it ok for him to give them my number. I was like, ‘of course.’
So where do you go from here? How much do you know about what the Brewers have planned for you?
They told me I’ll be going to short season in Montana (with Helena). That’s the plan.
What are some of your goals for this year and moving forward?
Honestly, I’m way too old to be in Helena with all these 18, 19-year-olds. So my goal is to hopefully finish the season in A-ball and hopefully start in AA next year. That’s my goal. Like I said, I’m too old to be playing with these guys and I’ve got too much experience to be…they don’t let them throw two-seams (two-seam fastballs), and I’m a two-seam kind of guy. I feel like I’ve learned how to pitch and now I’ve just got to put up the numbers.