As difficult as it might be to believe, it’s almost time for Orioles baseball to be back on our television screens on a nightly basis. There’s plenty to be excited about, even if the general consensus says the team isn’t going to be very good. The numbers, of course, don’t help the conversation, but since when are numbers everything? There’s plenty they can’t project, including new talents making an impact over the course of 162 games.
There are plenty of new names in camp this year, but one in particular is taking the spotlight and making his case to become a season-long member of the roster.
If you’re looking for a candidate to emerge and shine in a new role, you might not have to look any further than Anthony Santander.
A superb spring
It’s been just that — superb. He’s only notched 40 at-bats, but Santander has had arguably the most consistent performance over the course of the exhibition schedule. The games are fake, yes. But the opportunities are very real. For a guy like Santander, these outings matter. In his age-23 season, this is the year that he’ll need to stick on a MLB roster and become an impact player.
Over his 40 ABs, he has a .350 average with a whopping .600 slugging percentage. You can credit that to three early home runs, including one on Tuesday against the Twins. He’s driven in 14 runs, a good number that is perhaps even overshadowed by the fact that he’s struck out just five times. Rumor has it, that’s pretty good.
The sample size might be the equivalent of a grain of sand, however Santander has proven he can hit for plenty of power over his 363 games in the minors. He tallied slugging percentages of .513 and .494 on 2015 and 2016 respectively in years in which he played a significant number of games. In 2017, he hit five home runs in 15 games at double-A Bowie. Hitting for power isn’t something new to Santander’s game, and it’s clearly carrying over to his game in Sarasota.
The famous question mark
It’s the conversation that gets tossed around almost every year around the league with rising talent.
“Great, you can hit. But how’s your glove?”
It’s become increasingly simple in the modern day to cling onto the idea that good bats can be hidden in a corner outfield spot. Logic seems to say that a player is going to have more opportunities to make an impact at the dish than make a game-changing error in the outfield. And while that may be true, teams — especially the Orioles — have recently seen that having a liability in the outfield doesn’t exactly bode well for winning percentage.
Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun wrote a story before the spring that included two noteworthy quotes from Buck Showalter that are worth sharing. Both ultimately relate to Santander:
“It’s been something he knows,” Showalter said of Santander having to prove himself defensively. “We’ve talked to him about [it]. It’s really an organizational thing. ‘OK, you can hit, you have the chance to be a good hitter, but can you play on both sides of the ball, because if you’re driving in one and letting in two …’ ”
“It’s not really the plays they don’t make,” Showalter said. “It’s the plays that go unnoticed in the error column, [being] slow to the ball where you should have thrown the guy out at second where there’s no error, a ball you don’t cut off in the gap that becomes a triple instead of a single but doesn’t show up in the error column. Those are some of the things you look into.”
That, for now, seems to be the question with Santander. We’ve seen it before. Offensive production is great — and at the end of the day, it probably is the most important asset. But it’s also true that above-average defense does win games.
The road ahead
All signs point to Santander making the roster and being in contention for at-bats immediately. Ultimately, you just have to wonder whether or not Showalter trusts his glove enough to establish him as a regular. It’s a tough call, one that could get easier if Santander continues to showcase serviceable play in the outfield.
There are plenty of options to fill that right field hole, but what if the switch-hitter provides solid play with the glove and plus pop with hit-for-average skills at the dish? Sure, you’d think Colby Rasmus still gets the regular nod, but it’d be pretty difficult to not ride with the upside of Santander.
It’s just spring training, but Santander’s production combined with Austin Hays’ numbers reminds us that nothing is set in stone. And the more Santander’s performances continue in the right direction, the easier it becomes to imagine him playing a key role within the lineup early.
All that is for certain is that Santander has opened the door. And if he continues, it could lead to key ABs through the first few weeks of the new year.