Anthony Santander has secured himself a spot on the Baltimore Orioles 2020 roster.
You don’t have to dig deep to find a few positive storylines from the 2019 season. The record is abysmal and there have been numerous stretches where the growing pains have shown through, but there are plenty of positive takeaways from this year for the Baltimore Orioles. One of the brightest spots on this roster has been outfielder Anthony Santander.
Santander has done a lot more than just give us the highlight of 2019 when he became the United Kingdom’s most beloved baseball player. He’s produced at the plate and in the field and he’s done it in impressive fashion. Perhaps the biggest question to be answered this season involves finding out who sticks around through the rebuild and who can’t make the cut. I hope you like watching Anthony Santander play, because he’s going to be around for a while.
Santander’s early story has been well-documented this year, from his original acquisition via the Rule 5 draft to his injuries and lack of playing time in 2017 and 2018. This season has been a season of defying expectations for Santander, someone who didn’t start the year on the major league roster and someone who many figured would be passed by with the likes of DJ Stewart, Austin Hays, Ryan McKenna, Yusniel Diaz, and others in the organization.
Beginning 2019 in Triple-A with the Norfolk Tides, Santander was one of the more streaky hitters on the Norfolk roster. A week of solid plate appearances followed by two weeks of hitless nights was the norm. When he was called up on June 7th, he was finishing up a week’s stretch of games in which he had just four hits in 20 at-bats. He was cold, but the Baltimore Orioles needed an outfielder and Santander was their guy.
My gut reaction at the time was pretty simple. Here’s a guy who is going to get a few hacks while the Orioles cycle through outfielders, he’s going to look a lot like 2018 Anthony Santander, and the Orioles will move on from him or leave him in Triple-A as an emergency depth piece until someone comes offering cash considerations. Fast forward three months and Santander has proven a lot of people wrong, myself included.
After Tuesday’s doubleheader against Tampa Bay, Santander is riding a nine-game hitting streak in which he’s 16-37 (.432 average) with five home runs, three doubles, and 12 RBI. It all started back on August 25th when he went 5-5 at the plate, the third Baltimore Orioles hitter to do so this season.
On the season, the 24-year-old outfielder is slashing .292/.327/.522 with 17 home runs and 19 doubles. He’s been valuable, as his 119 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR in 78 games prove (Baseball Reference has Santander at 2.2 bWAR). Can he be just as productive in 2020 or will we see the return of 2017/2018 Santander? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do like the improvements he has made at the plate.
It all starts with waiting for the pitch he wants. Santander is seeing an average of 4.07 pitches per plate appearance, slightly above the league average of 3.95. His first-pitch swing rate has dropped from 33% to 24%, he’s swinging at fewer overall pitches in the zone, fouling off more strikes than anyone else on the Orioles roster (33.4%, league average is 28%), getting the pitch he wants and making something positive happen. Santander makes pitchers work and capitalizes when they tire out and make a mistake.
He doesn’t hit the ball extremely hard (61st percentile in average exit velocity), but he is becoming more of a line-drive hitter and he’s doing it from both sides of the plate.
Before Tuesday’s doubleheader, Santander spoke with Orioles broadcaster Brian Roberts and mentioned how he didn’t become a switch-hitter until he was 15. While at a baseball academy, he figured he would add switch-hitting to his tool bag to make himself look more attractive to pro scouts. It worked and didn’t take long to catch on.
Compare his numbers from the left and right side of the plate and you see a major reason why Santander has become a fixture in Brandon Hyde‘s lineup, even as a center fielder. It isn’t very often you see a player put up nearly identical numbers from both sides of the plate.
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- vs LHP- .292/.325/.540, 8 HR, 123 wRC+
- vs RHP- .291/.329/.513, 9 HR, 117 wRC+
With an overall strikeout rate of 19.8% and a walk rate of 4.8%, could he stand to add a few more walks? Yes, but players like Ahmed Rosario, Christian Vazquez, and our guy Adam Jones have similar strikeout and walk rates and are producing overall numbers similar to what we can likely expect from Santander, around league-average wRC+ and worth around two wins above replacement over the course of a season.
Did he throw a ball sideways from left field a few weeks ago? Unfortunately, he did. Did Charlie Morton get him with a nutmeg? That happened and you can see it here. Is he the answer to the center field problem plaguing the Orioles this season? Far from it. So what good is he?
He’s a corner outfielder with a bit of sneaky speed who can hold his own on defense (5 Defensive Runs Saved and 1.0 UZR in RF) and be a reliable fourth-outfield option/designated hitter who produces slightly above league average on a very good Baltimore Orioles team down the road. That’s a big improvement for someone who was struggling to hit Triple-A pitching just three months ago.
If he doesn’t work out, he gave us some memorable moments along the way and gave bigger prospects the opportunity to stay down in the minors to continue their development. But I’m putting my money on Santander sticking around for a bit.
I leave you with that amazing day at Camden Yards when the Anthony Santander Fan Club was born.