2019 has been and will continue to be a year of evaluation for the Orioles; taking stock of the current inventory to see who could possibly stick around for the next handful of years until the Birds are a competitive team again.
Production from the outfield has been underwhelming for the most part. Dwight Smith Jr. may have hit .276/.325/.486 in April/March, but he has not been able to replicate that level of production since the first month-plus of the season. He entered the All-Star break with a much less impressive .241/.295/.430 triple slash line.
Trey Mancini is Trey Mancini, but it’s common knowledge that he’s a better 1B/DH than corner outfielder. Since being acquired from the New York Mets on May 22, center fielder Keon Broxton has hit .198 with 46 strikeouts in 96 at-bats. There’s also Stevie Wilkerson, a utility player learning the outfield on the fly this season who’s hitting .215.
Which brings us to Anthony Santander, who did not even start the season on the major league roster. He was called up for a single game on May 1 and sent back down to the minors the following day. On June 7 he was recalled again and he’s managed to stick with the big league club ever since.
At the unofficial halfway point of the season, Santander has a .274/.333/.443 batting line with six doubles, four home runs, 15 RBI, nine walks and 22 strikeouts in 118 plate appearances.
Yet one of the most surprising aspects of Santander’s game this year has been his defense. There have been a number of highlight reel plays courtesy of the 24-year-old from Venezuela.
what a play by anthony santander pic.twitter.com/d3UcGxxEmH— Max Wildstein (@MaxWildstein) June 15, 2019
71% of the world's surface is covered by water.— Orioles on MASN (@masnOrioles) July 3, 2019
The rest is covered by Anthony Santander. pic.twitter.com/PY5wEIw0vg
Santander has seen time in all three outfield spots, and the defensive metrics supplied by Fangraphs support his stellar defense in at least one of those three spots. He may be carrying a lowly -1.7 UZR in left field in 85 innings this year, but in 141.1 innings in right, that number jumps to 2.3. That’s better than his 2017 and 2018 UZR in right — 1.5 and 0.0, respectively. In a handful of innings in center this year his UZR is 0.0.
When he was first acquired in the 2016 Rule 5 draft, some compared Santander to fellow Venezuelan Victor Martinez. Both are 6 foot 2 switch-hitters and there is even some similarity in their swings. Granted, Martinez played at 235 pounds while Santander is listed at 190 on Baseball Reference. That is a hefty comparison to make with a young player, but if Santander can even come close to Martinez’s .295/.360/.455 career slash line, he should have a long career in the bigs.
Santander’s career batting splits in the majors look like this: .248/.289/.398 versus right-handed pitchers and .224/.289/.316 versus left-handed pitchers. So far this year, the young switch-hitter has fared better against righties at the plate, with a .286/.343/.508 line in 71 plate appearances. But he’s holding his own against left-handers too — albeit with much less power — slashing .256/.319/.349 in 47 plate appearances.
As with every young player, there are bound to be some growing pains. One such example occurred recently when Santander got nutmegged by the Rays’ Charlie Morton. Now I had no idea what that term meant so I had to look it up, and I came across this definition from good ole Wikipedia:
A nutmeg (or tunnel, nut, megs, megnuts, panna, brooksy, codling) is a skill used mainly in association football, but also in field hockey, ice hockey, and basketball. The aim is to kick, roll, dribble, throw, or push the ball (or puck) between an opponent’s legs (feet).
NUTMEGGED! pic.twitter.com/QXUVAdV4qG— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) July 3, 2019
Luckily for Santander, the bad moments like this have been far-outweighed by good moments. Like the time he hit the 100th home run onto Eutaw Street in Camden Yards’ history. On June 29 against the Indians, Santander pulled his hands in on a Zach Plesac 92 mph fastball and redirected it 410 feet over the flag court in right.
Perhaps the best thing about Santander, in the context of the current Orioles, is that he is young and controllable. He’s only making $546,500 this year, according to Baseball Reference, and he becomes arbitration eligible for the first time in 2021 and a free agent in 2024 at the earliest.
A few of the future threats to Santander’s playing time include a couple players who are in the minors at the moment. DJ Stewart is working his way back from an ankle injury, and he may see time in the outfield corners when completely healthy. Austin Hays is another player working back from injury who may play into the O’s outfield picture further down the line. But Santander has earned the right to consistent playing time even when/if those players get back up to the bigs.
Statistics provided by Baseball Reference, ESPN and Fangraphs.