Sustained health keying Santander's success

Anthony Santander sprinted into right-center field to run down a fly ball in the first inning of last Monday night’s game and made a diving catch in the fifth to again turn back the Royals and bring the Camden Yards crowd to its feet. His run-scoring single in the fourth that proceeded Ryan Mountcastle’s game-tying home run was more easily forgotten because the defensive gems shined so brightly.

The Pirates’ Edward Olivares thought he had an extra-base hit in the eighth inning Saturday, but Santander hustled toward the line, went airborne again and gloved the ball before it could touch grass.

Santander remained in the lineup Tuesday as designated hitter, shifting the emphasis entirely to a bat that can make thunderous contact from both sides of the plate. He played right field the next four days.

Manager Brandon Hyde wants him in the lineup on most nights, with the occasional breaks provided to keep him fresh and healthy. A challenge that’s waned over the past few of years.

Injuries tore down Santander in multiple seasons and forced a couple of September shutdowns. An ankle sprain in April 2021 impacted his entire summer. But he’s appeared in 152 and 153 games the past two seasons. He feels indestructible.

He also knows why.

Santander is living in the best of two baseball worlds. He has the Orioles’ skilled and trusted strength and conditioning crew at his disposal, and he found a trainer outside the organization who changed the way he thinks and works. It’s a harmonious marriage.

Troy Jones, 54, is a Baltimore native who relocated to south Florida eight years ago and has been in the industry for 31, going back to TZ Sports that he built from scratch – one of his first athletes was Orioles reliever Jim Poole - and then the 21,000 square foot facility he opened in Sykesville in Carroll County.

Jones was recruited to come down to Florida and open former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall’s facility “House of Athlete,” which is dedicated to improving mental and physical fitness, and later started his own consulting company. He’s known in the industry for embracing and executing cutting-edge technology. Santander can vouch for it.

The training is movement specific, making sure that Santander’s body flows on multiple plains in a fluid manner.

“Usually if there’s some type of issues that pop up or some type of chain of discomfort that’s occurred, that’s usually somewhere your body’s just not flowing in the proper way that it needs to be to function day to day,” Jones explained.

Jones isolates the origin of the issue, fixes it and globally builds it back up to overall movement so that it translates over to the player operating at higher speeds.

“The mobility that we do is not traditional stretching,” Jones said. “It’s specific to rotation and then the joints rotating together stacked on top of one another. We target patterns specific to what he does, but we reverse engineer those patterns to balance things out globally.”

Santander, his agency and financial people were seeking a place for him to train outside ballparks that could, as Jones described it, “get him healthy” because he “kept breaking down.”

“He started looking at, what can he do to be better as a pro,” Jones said. “He came to Florida and interviewed multiple facilities. He told me he was coming, he gave me his background. I researched him and everything, find out what his issues were. We had a conversation and I was like, ‘You are a talented player, but you’ve gotten away from the things that made you great.’ He was like, ‘What is that?’ And I was like, ‘Being an athlete because that’s what powers the skill set. You have to move well. And you’re not moving well. All these injuries are accumulating over time and they’re starting to slow you down. You have to get back to moving well as a human being first and then transition to moving well as an athlete, and then transition to moving good and playing well as a baseball player.’

“That seemed to sell him on taking a different approach to train. That’s years of experience, trial and error, that kind of led to me understanding that keeping an athlete on the field is what matters. Availability is the best ability. And him being resilient to injury, being healthy and having a great routine in place, carries over for them day to day.”

Santander visited a couple places in Miami before connecting with Jones, whose wife, Doris Bumbry, is the niece of former Orioles outfielder Al Bumbry – a coincidental connection to the franchise.

“That relationship has been great, thank God,” said Santander, who had an RBI single yesterday. “It’s built over the years. This is our third year working together. I wanted to try something different from the training perspective because in the past I had too many injuries. I wanted someone to help my career.

“When I talked to him, I got the feeling right away because he told me, ‘I don’t care that you’re a baseball player. I need to prepare you for being an athlete. And then we can get more specific after your body is an athlete.’ I trusted what he told me and we started working in the 2021 season. That’s when I had my ankle sprain that year.

“I love how he does his job, I love his philosophy. Thank God we’ve had three years now.”

Running down fly balls in the freezing cold could be the result of the hours spent over the winter focusing on Santander’s speed. He won’t beat outfielders Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays in a race, but he also won’t be left gasping in the dust.

“He’s been very impressive defensively. We talk about it in the dugout,” said bench coach Fredi González.

“I think he’s better than what people think in the outfield. He gets good routes. He gets great jumps. We’ve always defended for him the last couple years because we had (Ryan) McKenna on the bench that was a really, really good outfielder. When we don’t have that type of guy, we feel real comfortable to run Anthony out there for the whole game because he makes those plays.”

Santander was a Gold Glove finalist in the truncated 2020 season and posted a 0.7 dWAR, but it slipped to minus-0.6, minus-1.3 and minus-0.6 the next three seasons. His outs above average (OAA) per Statcast went from 1 in 2020 to minus-4, minus-5 and minus-1.

“We didn’t like some of the defensive scores that we were getting back, what some of the analytics were showing us,” Jones said. “We were like, ‘Ah, that’s not it, so let’s go back to the old foundation of just working on some linear speed and changing direction as far as multiple angles, how we break on balls, things like that.’ Being very quick to react and process what you see really fast. If your brain speeds up and it sends a signal to the body, you can react very quickly. We worked on a lot of things in the offseason that carried over, so his reaction time is quicker, his ability to accelerate has improved. And he’s a very explosive, powerful guy. He just wasn’t applying the force in the right direction. And again, that was from injury.

“A lot of times when you have injuries you start creating these compensations to work around those injuries. He could always run. When he first came in and we researched, he ran in the mid-6.5s when he was young. So, your power is still there. It’s just bringing his body back into harmony so he can execute on it and apply to real time. We’re just getting him comfortable and feeling good about himself, and he does.”

Living in Fort Lauderdale makes it easy for Jones to travel further south and train Santander at the outfielder’s Miami home. He’s also been to Venezuela twice during the winter.

“In the offseason, we’re together all the time,” Santander said.

“We usually sit down and evaluate the season,” Jones said. “We look at everything he did, what issues may have occurred during the season from the standpoint of just the load, the volume, and then we start building out a program from scratch to get better and improve the next season from the things we saw the previous season.

“It’s been working pretty well because he’s going into year three being able to complete the season. We’re excited about this season. He’s moving well because he’s now really feeling good and understanding his body.”

The hours spent together allowed them to build a friendship that’s evolved over time. Jones learned what coaches, teammates and the media already know.

“He’s a great guy,” Jones said.

“The thing about Anthony is, he has a work ethic. First of all, being a professional athlete requires a different mentality of how you approach it day to day. People spend the majority of their day preparing to play, then recovering from playing to prepare for the next day. And then you’re talking about doing that for 162 days. It’s a lot of dedication. And in the offseason you’re preparing to get better so performance the next season improves. Each offseason should get a little easier and easier to prepare, but you still stay consistent because as much time as it takes to prepare, it can get out of sync very quickly when you don’t stay consistent. If you don’t move, you lose it, so staying consistent over the course of time keeps him at a place where he’s self-aware of his body and he can communicate back to me what he’s feeling, which helps me better serve him as a coach to be able to find the issues that we get ahead of and keep him consistent on the field.”

And simply keep him on the field, where he’s wired to produce runs and prevent them.

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