Taken in the December 2016 Rule 5 draft from Cleveland in large part because of a potent bat, he showed it at the major league level in 2019. As the Orioles try to identify players who could be around when the team is winning again, he looks like he could be one.
In a late-season interview, teammate Trey Mancini threw major praise toward the 25-year-old Santander and said he knew a breakout like this was coming.
“I’ve always thought he was a beast, from the second we got him,” Mancini said. “I think it’s really showing now. He’s getting a really consistent shot up here and he’s done such a great job. Was in Triple-A for a while and put his head down and worked hard.
“He’s done an incredible job from both sides of the plate. Every at-bat he has is a professional at-bat. He takes great swings and makes really hard contact consistently. That is the name of the game for him. He’s one of the most consistent guys I’ve played with in a while.
“I also think he plays extremely well in the outfield. I never really understood why some didn’t think he was solid on defense. I think he’s rock solid out there and is really showing his talent.”
Over 93 games and 405 plate appearances, Santander hit .261/.297/.476 with 20 doubles, 20 homers, 59 RBIs and an OPS of .773. He slumped late in the year, hitting .155 in September, and went 1-for-23 to end his year. But in early September, he was batting .292 with an OPS of .854.
He dealt late in the season with some undisclosed physical issues that manager Brandon Hyde said Santander tried to play through but would not be more specific about. He did not play in the season’s final five games.
But Santander played and played well before that. After being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on June 7, he was second on the Orioles in doubles (20), home runs (19) and RBIs (58), and fourth in hits (98) and runs scored (44).
On Aug. 31 at Kansas City, the switch-hitting Santander slugged homers from both sides of plate. It was the 15th time an Oriole had done that, the first since Matt Wieters on Oct. 2, 2016. According to STATS, Santander was the youngest Orioles player (24 years, 316 days) to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game since a 23-year-old Eddie Murray did so on Aug. 29, 1979.
Santander said feeling comfortable on the team and in the clubhouse on a team filled with young players helped him play well on the field, and manager Brandon Hyde agreed with that.
“I feel very comfortable,” Santander said. “This is a good group of guys, young guys. Hopefully, we continue to stay together and compete and win some games, hopefully for the next few years.”
Hyde said: “It was really important for us to create an atmosphere here where guys can be themselves. When guys get to the big leagues, you want them to fit in and feel comfortable right away so they can perform. I think that’s really important. It’s not easy creating a great clubhouse when your team is not winning. That’s a challenge. But I feel strong about it that we have an atmosphere here where guys enjoy being around each other. The clubhouse is always in a good mood and guys enjoy being at the ballpark. It’s not like that everywhere. Tony is fitting right in and he’s going to be an integral part of this organization going forward.”
Hyde grew more and more confident in Santander and eventually put him right in the middle of his order. He batted third in 48 games.
“He’s taking elite ABs, hitting third in the lineup and squaring the ball up a lot, and playing plus defense in the corners and in center when I ask him to, so I think there are some good things happening,” Hyde said. “I hope the fans are grabbing onto that there is some excitement with some of our guys going forward, and that’s what this was all about, to really find players that are going to be with us when we’re winning playoff games.”