SARASOTA, Fla. - The absence of Mark Trumbo on opening day due to a strained quadriceps muscle could provide regular at-bats for Anthony Santander in the designated hitter role. He also could get some starts in the outfield as manager Buck Showalter maneuvers players and takes advantage of his roster flexibility.
No one is debating whether Santander makes the club and can stay for the first 44 days to shed his Rule 5 status. Santander is a lock. He’s done everything necessary to earn the trust of Showalter and his staff, to run down the orange carpet on March 29 at Camden Yards.
“I feel very well, happy for the opportunity that I’ve been given,” he said this morning through translator Ramón Alarcón. “I feel confident with my teammates. They allow me to be myself, to be relaxed, go out there and have fun and at the same time help the team.”
Santander, 23, is serving as the designated hitter today in Lakeland, but he’s been impressive in left and right field. Improving his defense and mobility were included among the challenges issued by Showalter following the season, which started late for Santander due to elbow and shoulder injuries.
“The main thing was trying to get my arm healthy, 100 percent healthy,” he said. “That was one of the main things. Another thing was I lost some weight, which I was working on it so I could be quicker on the field, with the whole purpose of helping the team this upcoming season.”
Santander shed about 15 pounds and proved that he could do more than impact a game at the plate.
“I feel very well, capable of playing the outfield,” he said. “I lost some weight with the idea to be more agile in the outfield, so I’m trying to take advantage of that.”
Limited to 13 games and 31 plate appearances last season, Santander went 8-for-30 with three doubles, two RBIs and eight strikeouts in a brief audition. He’s emerged as one of the camp highlights, batting .333/.340/.627 (17-for-51) with three doubles, four home runs and a team-leading 16 RBIs.
“I feel very well, I feel healthy, total confidence in myself with my ability to help the team,” he said. “I would say that’s the biggest difference so far.”
The Orioles assigned Santander to the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League to accelerate his development and give the Orioles more chances to watch him play. They needed to learn more about him beyond his ability to hit from both sides of the plate and to manhandle pitching in the Carolina League.
“It was helpful because I was able to get a lot of at-bats there, to get the at-bats that I didn’t get during the regular season,” he said, “so I’m really appreciative of that, to get the at-bats and plate appearances to get ready for this season.”
It should be a full season for Santander.
“The main thing is to be ready to play every single day,” said Santander, who began switch-hitting when he was 15 years old. “Get ready for it, prepare for it, work for it. I watch the guys, how they get ready for the game like Adam (Jones), Manny (Machado), all of those guys. They’re ready to play every day and that’s what I’m trying to do, as well.”