Each winter, I imagine Orioles GM Dan Duquette circles two holidays on his calendar- Christmas, and the Rule 5 draft. While about half the league generally skips out on the ability to force career minor leaguers onto their big league rosters, the Orioles under Dan Duquette have taken advantage of the draft on a yearly basis.
It’s not a bad thing, particularly with a weak farm system, but it does make for some interesting some roster scenarios.
Given the Orioles’ affinity for taking part in the Rule 5 draft, I’m going to skip past the general stipulations and eligibility requirements surrounding it. If you’d like to learn a little more, Camden Chat has previously gone into more detail here.
Over the years, the Orioles have added guys like Ryan Flaherty, TJ McFarland, Jason Garcia, and Joey Rickard, among other players. This year, the Orioles drafted Aneury Tavarez, who was returned to the Red Sox in Spring Training, and then took outfielder/DH Anthony Santander with the final pick in the major league portion of the draft.
Santander raked last year in high-A ball for the Lynchburg Hillcats, an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Despite slashing .290/.368/.494 with 42 doubles and 20 home runs as a 21-year-old, he was not protected from the Rule 5 draft, and the Orioles scooped him up. Perhaps the Indians thought he wouldn’t be selected due to his offseason shoulder surgery; but if anything, his injury has given the Orioles an opportunity to keep him around.
Santander played some DH in Spring Training, but was unable to play in the outfield due to a sore elbow. After the switch hitter struck out 11 times in his first 22 at-bats, Santander later settled in and finished 7-for-28 with two homers and a team-high 7 RBI. Nothing spectacular, but flashed his power and certainly held his own for a guy straight from Lynchburg.
The Birds surely would not have had room for Santander on the 40-man roster in April, but his injury allowed the team to place him on the 60-day DL and temporarily suspend his Rule 5 requirements. His rehab stint in AA Bowie started last week, and has given the Orioles decision makers another chance to look at him. Saying he has been taking advantage of the opportunity would be an understatement. The dude has been unstoppable.
It’s only been six games, but Santander has certainly looked the part of a big leaguer that’s only down there for a rehab stint. Through Wednesday, Santander has gone 10-for-16 with five doubles, two homers, and four walks, while striking out only twice. That equates to a batting average of .625 and an absurd OPS of 2.013. Even with such a small sample size, it’s pretty unbelievable that his at-bats have produced more extra-base hits than outs.
Temporary roster crunch incoming
Santander can only stay down on his rehab stint until August 15th before either being added to the 25-man roster or returned to Cleveland. If he keeps hitting even half as well as he has at Bowie over the next week, his promotion to Baltimore will be all but a guarantee. Luckily for the O’s, they will only have to survive with him on the roster for two weeks before rosters expand in September.
Their normal options would be to outright Gentry with an understanding that he’ll be added back in September, or to option Rickard for two weeks. But for some reason Rickard has stayed on the big league club all season long despite Duquette’s constant roster shuffling. Expect that trend to continue. The O’s also have Flaherty, Trumbo, and Hardy all nearing the ends of their DL stints as well to further throw a wrench into the situation.
If they can squeeze him onto the roster from August 15th through August 31st, it may all work out perfectly for the Orioles with regards to Santander. In order to clear his obligations as a Rule 5 draftee, he must remain on the active roster for 90 days.
Santander should easily get 45 days out of the way in 2017, and then he would only have to remain on the roster in 2018 for 45 days before being in the Orioles organization for good. With the early weeks of the season often full of days off, keeping Santander on the roster for the first part of 2018 should be fairly manageable.
Santander remains nothing more than an unproven prospect at this point, but he is certainly an intriguing piece, especially in the Orioles’ farm system. Not many prospects put up 40+ doubles and 20+ homers in high A ball at 21 years old. Santander may not truly be ready for the major leagues right now, but he’ll most likely be in an Orioles uniform in two weeks so get ready. Another Dan Duquette Rule 5 experiment is about to begin.