Anthony Santander was the chosen one on May 1 when the Orioles needed a 26th player in Chicago, and he responded by hitting a home run.
It was safe to unpack, but he didn’t get too comfortable.
The Orioles had a decision to make Sunday night after removing DJ Stewart from his rehab assignment. Stewart was activated from the injured list and optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
It could have been Santander. It could have been Stevie Wilkerson. But the Orioles kept Stewart with the Tides, where his assignment had carried him.
“We’re going to stay with what we have right now,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “DJ’s going to continue to play and I’m sure he’ll be up here at some point soon.”
Last night’s lineup against the Nationals included Santander in center field. His starts have come at all three outfield spots - 18 in right, 11 in left and three in center.
The roster lacks a true center fielder behind Keon Broxton, who’s trying to avoid the waiver wire now that he’s out of options. The Orioles use Wilkerson. They’re also experimenting with Santander, whose previous experience as a professional in center consisted of one inning in Venezuela.
“I feel good, thank God,” he said via translator Ramón Alarcón. “I’m very happy for the opportunity that the manager is giving me. What I’m trying to do is during the practices I practice really hard and try really hard to prepare myself for the position.
“I was originally signed as a center fielder. That was way back when I signed for the first time. But as I grew older they moved me around to the corner outfield because I got a little bit bigger and stronger. But I’m just trying to get ready for that.”
Nearly forgotten last summer after fulfilling his Rule 5 obligations and batting .258/.293/.402 in 54 games with Double-A Bowie, Santander ranked among the most impressive players in spring training and put himself back in the club’s plans.
Used in 18 Grapefruit League games while there were jobs available in the outfield, Santander slashed .333/.389/.697 with six doubles and two home runs. He had 11 hits in 33 at-bats. He also had no chance to make the club, as it turned out, with the Orioles already convinced that his development should continue in Norfolk.
The process is playing out now in the majors, on a field that’s becoming the land of opportunity.
“I just think he’s getting comfortable. I think he’s comfortable at this level,” Hyde said.
“The quality of his at-bats in spring training were excellent, the defense he played in spring training was really good. He came up for a day and hit a homer in Chicago. Went back down and since he’s come up I just feel like his at-bats are continuing to ... he’s just really into his at-bat.
“I love how he doesn’t pull off, love the way he can stay inside the ball. But he uses the whole field, also. He’s got a middle-of-the-field approach and I just think he’s getting comfortable in the big leagues. He’s a confident guy.”
It was bound to be an arduous process for a former Rule 5 pick who tried to make the jump from the Single-A Carolina League to the majors in 2017 and fell flat on his face.
There were injuries and failures that make this year’s success and the organization’s trust in him all the sweeter.
“I feel good,” he said before going 0-for-4 last night to leave him batting .264/.321/.408 with six doubles and four home runs in 33 games. “I was fortunate to be here 2017 and also 2018. That experience really helped me. And this is a game of adjustments. Every day I’m just trying to make an adjustment and trying to get better.”