Anthony Santander has been a pleasant surprise with his glove, arm and bat in 2019, earning him a daily spot in the Orioles’ lineup … and his own personal fan club.
The Venezuelan outfielder made national news when he caught the attention of more than 4,000 UK Boy and Girl Scouts attending the Orioles’ 6-5 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays Aug. 4. The young visitors became enamored with Santander as the game wore on, cheering wildly each time he made a play.
Santander sent the group into a frenzy when he threw a ball into the bleachers at the end of an inning. One of the spectators ran to the Orioles’ team store at Camden Yards and purchased a No. 25 Santander jersey, proudly proclaiming herself his No. 1 fan.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has also become a big supporter of Santander, who has emerged as one of the highlights of this rebuilding season. Santander, 24, has probably done enough to earn a role with the club in 2020 and beyond.
“He’s putting together a really nice offensive year, obviously,” Hyde said. “Love the corner defense he plays, as well, and to be able to stick him out in center field and do a nice job. I just like Tony’s overall game. I think he’s got a chance to be a really nice player. I’ve said that many times. A switch-hitter that covers the plate that has got some power from both sides.
“I really like the flatness. It’s a really flat swing. He stays through the ball really well. … So a lot of really good things offensively and he’s only going to get better.”
In a season full of personal highlights, few were bigger for Santander than when he went 5-for-5 with a home run during an 8-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays Aug. 25.
That performance etched Santander’s name in Orioles history with Hanser Alberto and Renato Nunez, who have also managed to put together five-hit games this season. It’s just the second time in franchise history the Orioles have had three players with that many hits in a game in one season, according to STATS LLC. Tommy Davis, Mark Belanger and Rich Coggins also accomplished the feat in 1974.
It was a performance that has been typical of Santander this season. He is the type of player who never looks at the scoreboard, an added bonus given the Orioles’ struggles.
“My mindset is to play aggressive, no matter what, all the way until the end until the 27th out,” Santander said through Orioles translator Ramon Alarcon.
Santander was hitting .278/.312/.500 with 18 home runs entering play Sept. 12. He has the most home runs by an Orioles outfielder 24 or younger since Adam Jones hit 19 in 2010.
The milestones keep piling up. On Aug. 31 against the Kansas City Royals, Santander became the youngest Orioles player to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game since Eddie Murray, 23, did so Aug. 29, 1979, according to STATS LLC. Entering play Sept. 12, Santander had hit 14 home runs since the All-Star break.
Many thought Santander played well enough during spring training this year to make the opening day roster. He batted .333/.389/.697 with six doubles and two home runs during 18 games in Sarasota, Fla., but he was sent to Triple-A Norfolk to begin the season.
“He had a great spring training and I loved his swing in spring training,” Hyde said of Santander. “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.”
The Orioles were in no rush this spring and wanted Santander to get more experience at the Triple-A level. Santander was solid but not spectacular with the Tides, batting .259/.311/.415 with 15 doubles, five home runs and 28 RBIs in 48 games (193 at-bats). He also struck out 38 times and earned 13 walks.
The Orioles turned to him after outfielders Dwight Smith Jr. and DJ Stewart were placed on the injured list in early June. Santander was recalled from Norfolk June 7 and incrementally worked his way into the everyday lineup. Just one week after the promotion, he had three hits and drove in the Orioles’ first two runs of a 12-3 loss to the Blue Jays with RBI singles in the third and fifth innings.
“I think the biggest difference is the experience,” Santander said. “I have a better understanding of what pitchers are trying to do against me, and also playing regularly really helps.
“The everyday work that I’m putting in is giving me this kind of results,” he said, “so I’m just thankful for the opportunity to play and come every day and work hard.”
This season has been all about providing opportunities for young players, and Santander has taken full advantage of his every game.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles
Issue 257: September 2019