December 8th, 2016 was Dan Duquette’s favorite day of the year: the Rule 5 draft. This time aroundm for the second time in three years, he selected not one but two players. The first, Aneury Tavarez, was a 24-year-old outfielder who had spent portions of the previous two years in double-A and triple-A.
Tavarez was the type of player you expect to see selected in the Rule 5 draft. Since players selected in the draft have to spend an entire season on the active roster, a guy who’s spent time at the upper levels of the minors makes sense. Tavarez had good minor league numbers, but his physical tools made him a fringe prospect.
Duquette's second pick, Anthony Santander, was not your run-of-the-mill Rule 5 pick. Instead of the typical low-ceiling advanced prospect like Tavarez that teams are generally willing to leave unprotected, Santander was a raw 22-year-old with good physical tools but without any experience above single-A.
In terms of his prospect status, Santander wasn’t a nobody. Mainly due to his power from both sides of the plate, he was ranked as the 13th best prospect in the Indians’ system after 2016, a system that was generally considered to be above average.
Even if he wasn’t going to factor in Cleveland’s immediate plans, Santander had some legitimate value as a trade piece for an organization that’s trying to win now. Rather than protect him, though, the Indians likely felt that his inexperience at any level above single-A, combined with his shoulder injury issues, would keep teams from selecting him.
Unfortunately for them, Duquette decided to take a flyer. While the injury may have scared some teams off, it actually presented an opportunity for the Orioles. They could stash Santander on the disabled list for a few months, then when it came time to bring him back, the roster situation might look different because of injuries or other reasons.
And that’s exactly what happened in August. Craig Gentry’s hot hitting from the spring didn’t carry over into the regular season and Joey Rickard wasn’t doing much to make the Orioles miss him if he was temporarily sent to Norfolk. Meanwhile, Mark Trumbo and Ryan Flaherty were both on the DL, and Hyun Soo Kim had been traded.
Combine that with Santander’s .380/.458/.780 line over his fifteen-game rehab stint in Bowie, and it was an easy decision to add him to the active roster instead of sending him back to Cleveland.
Since then, Santander has done, well, nothing. He’s been on the roster since August 15th and made just sixteen plate appearances. Just like Jason Garcia two years ago, the Orioles were completely hiding him and seemed content to be essentially playing with a 24-man team until September call-ups.
It’s not even worth analyzing his numbers in his stint with the Orioles, or his 64 minor league plate appearances, because they really don’t mean much. Instead, let’s take a look at what made the O’s select him in the first place.
Santander started his professional career in 2012 with the Indians’ rookie affiliate. He never had more than 238 plate appearances in any of his first three seasons and was dreadful at the single-A level in 2014, leading the Indians to keep him there for 2015.
In Santander’s third crack at the South Atlantic League, 2015 was a different story. With the Cleveland organization’s equivalent of the Shorebirds, he .278/.337/.464 with ten home runs in only 276 PA’s. That finally got him promoted to high-A for the following season.
In 2016, for the first time, he was able to play every day and without injury. The consistent playing time paid off in a big way; Santander hit .290/.368/.494 with 20 home runs and 42 doubles.
Despite that, the Indians didn’t protect him by placing him on the 40-man. Part of that was them being in “win now” mode, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t also think they’d be able to sneak him through the draft untouched.
Some teams tend to ignore the Rule 5 draft entirely, and most of the others use it to take guys who can improve the fringes of their roster, like a Flaherty-esque utility man or a long reliever along the lines of a T.J. McFarland. Santander certainly doesn’t fit that bill. Unfortunately for the Indians, though, the Orioles aren’t most teams when it comes to the Rule 5 draft.
With 45 days under his belt in 2017, Santander only needs to stay on the active roster for the first 45 days of next season to fulfill the Rule 5 requirements. After that, he’s officially Orioles property and can be sent to the minors.
With the abundance of off days and the generally healthy and well-rested state of the roster at the beginning of the year, it shouldn’t be too hard to stash him for that long. At that point, the O’s will have gotten away with stealing a legitimate prospect for chump change.
MLB.com has Santander ranked as the organization’s 10th best prospect right now. Other lists throughout the year have had him as high as fifth. We still don’t know much about what the Orioles have in Santander or what he may become, but he has the potential to turn into something valuable. That potential alone means that Dan Duquette deserves credit for this one.
After taking a quick glance at the roster, I count about sixteen guys who are virtual locks to be in an Orioles uniform on Opening Day. Fifteen of them are everyday players or core members of the pitching staff. The other is Santander.
He may be the Orioles’ mystery man, but get used to him. Regardless of how unproven he is, Anthony Santander will be running down the orange carpet next year on Opening Day.