If you’re willing to venture outside of the draft talk and who’s a trade chip or candidate for an extension, one of the more interesting storylines that’s developing with the Orioles involves their prospects and which ones are deemed ready for extended auditions with the club and which are viewed as needing more time in the minors.
In the case of Anthony Santander, the Orioles could shift their thinking and keep him around, though it’s only the second week of June.
Santander was cut in spring training because the Orioles wanted him to build at-bats and innings at Triple-A Norfolk. His development was interrupted by his Rule 5 status and the 2018 season was a bust. So slashing .333/.389/.697 with six doubles and two home runs in 18 games down in Florida only carried so much weight.
The surface appeal is obvious to anyone who’s watched Santander. He’s a switch-hitter who’s shown that he can hit for average, has pop, runs better than you’d think, can throw and made impressive strides defensively.
The camp exit seemed to indicate that Santander would spend a large chunk of the summer at the top affiliate, and he wasn’t tearing up the International League with a .263/.316/.421 slash line and five home runs in 47 games. However, the Orioles chose him as the 26th man for Game 2 of a doubleheader in Chicago and he homered at Guaranteed Rate Field, and he got the call after outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. was placed on the concussion injured list.
Smith is eligible to return on Friday and seemed fine after a light workout. He isn’t available to the media until he comes off the IL - concussions are handled in a different manner than a pulled groin - but manager Brandon Hyde passed along an update this week.
What happens to Santander as the Orioles host the Red Sox this weekend?
He could be optioned and await the next opportunity. The Orioles could keep him and send down a different position player, with Stevie Wilkerson a candidate after he was recalled while DJ Stewart went on the IL with a sprained ankle. However, Wilkerson can play center field as an alternative to Keon Broxton and Santander’s never done it in the majors or minors.
Baseball-reference.com lists Santander as playing one inning in center field in the Venezuelan Winter League. Do you want to hang your glove on that one?
The other alternative is to expand the bench and carry an extra reserve, with the Orioles choosing a reliever to axe from the 25-man roster. They’re growing more comfortable with the idea as the starters begin to work deeper in games and the bullpen becomes more trustworthy.
We’ve discussed the complications. How the Orioles need to make a decision on Mark Trumbo after his rehab assignment ends on Sunday. And whether they keep Stewart after he’s healthy or option him.
Is this Stewart’s audition or did it become Santander’s?
Santander was 7-for-18 with three extra-base hits in five games before going 0-for-4 with a walk last night. He lined to deep right field in the first inning.
“He had a great spring training and I loved his swing in spring training,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I thought he took great at-bats. Love the fact that he switch-hits, love the defense that he plays. He’s athletic for a big guy. He can run. He competes at the plate and I feel like he’s going to really improve as he gets more at-bats in the big leagues.
“I think he’s going to have some plate discipline, he’s going to be able to drive balls in the middle part of the plate. I think you saw off Gerrit Cole where Gerrit tried twice to elevate against him, once with two strikes, and he got on top at 98 and lined it up the middle. Got on top of a fastball up and in and got a double down the line. So he’s got bat speed, he can get to a fastball. I like his balanced approach at the plate. So I just think he needs at-bats.”
If improvement comes with at-bats in the bigs, maybe this is where he needs to play instead of returning to the Tides. But were 190 at-bats on the farm this year what the brass had in mind when he was included among the camp cuts?
The returns of Stewart and catcher Chance Sisco probably came quicker than fans anticipated back in March. A lengthy stay for Santander would fall in the same category.