Outfielder Anthony Santander was scheduled for an MRI-arthrogram Thursday to inject dye and see what was bothering him in his right elbow, manager Buck Showalter said. It marks the latest complication in the team’s attempt to evaluate an intriguing bat selected in the Rule 5 draft in December.
For both Santander and fellow Rule 5 outfielder Aneury Tavarez, every rep in spring training is precious for the ability to show the team they’re capable of the daily challenge a major league roster spot would provide. And Santander’s latest problem makes that more difficult.
“He’ll be down for two or three days for that to run its course,” Showalter said. “He’s having some discomfort in there. We’ll look at some things with his history and everything and see what we’re dealing with before we push forward with his progression in the outfield. They have some concerns there. They want to take a look at it and get the right tests done today.”
Santander had shoulder surgery this past offseason and only just began preparing to play the field in games, working to get his arm ready for game action.
“It was a shoulder, but I think looking at the physical and the history and everything, knowing we want to make sure we know what we’re dealing with there before we push forward with it,” Showalter said. “Knowing the history of everything he’s had, it’s something we want to make sure we’ve got our arms around before he goes into the outfield.”
Over the past week, Santander began to show the bat that led the team to pluck him from the Cleveland Indians’ farm system despite not a day above Single-A ball.
Santander entered Thursday night's game batting .250, but has picked it up of late with home runs on March 11 and 12, and four hits in his past eight at-bats. He said it’s “definitely more challenging” than what he was used to, having never played above the High-A Carolina League, but had to remind himself “it’s still baseball that we’re playing."
“So right now, I’m just feeling more comfortable, trying to be smarter than the pitcher and try to take advantage of his mistakes,” Santander said through team interpreter Ramon Alarcon.
However, Showalter said it’s difficult to carry a Rule 5 player who can’t play the field, making Santander’s path to the roster tough.
“We’re just trying to develop a trust factor,” Showalter said. “We felt like we developed a pretty good trust factor with Joey [Rickard] last year, and [T.J] McFarland and [Ryan] Flaherty. We got enough reps here that we got a feel. If you’re really watching, that’s what you’re really looking for. It’s kind of tough with Santander because we haven’t been able to see him out in the field. You’re not going to be able to carry somebody that can’t handle themselves defensively. It just won’t work."
That trust is something Tavarez is seeking to earn in the final few weeks of camp.
He has spent time at all three outfield positions while batting .310 with six stolen bases in 16 games.
“Spring training is going excellent so far, thank god. I’m just fortunate to be healthy right now and able to go out there and compete, which is what I want,” Tavarez said through Alarcon.
Showalter said they’re seeing some of the skills, including speed and defensive ability, that made the team consider Tavarez in the draft, but now comes the time to apply them in games and show that he can offer them consistently.
“His talent is going to allow him to get to some balls that some other people won’t, but will the lack of experience get in the way of completing the plays?” Showalter said. “You see the long ball he ran a long way and overran [Monday]. He’s probably one of the few guys in camp who can get to that ball, but the experience of breaking down and knowing you’re going to run by that, you’ve got to get under control. That’s what we’re looking for, because that skill and that tool don’t play unless you can finish a play and break it down.
“So throwing arm, all the things that in the big leagues they’ll exploit if you don’t have it. You see the foot speed, then you see the stolen base totals, so you can tell there’s some instinctual things that he’s still working with because you see the foot speed and you expect him to have 40, 50, 60 stolen bases somewhere, and that will. He’s got a chance to. “
Neither said they have given much thought to the Rule 5 roster restrictions they’ll face. For either to remain in the organization, they must remain on the 25-man roster for the whole season and cannot be optioned to the minors.
And for the first time in several years, it’s looking like the Orioles could break camp without a Rule 5 pick. This year, however, the outfield situation seems crowded. Rickard and Craig Gentry seem to be front runners for spare outfield positions, with the likes of Chris Dickerson and outfield newcomers Trey Mancini and Pedro Alvarez also competing for roster spots.
Santander’s myriad arm injuries could be cited as a reason to start him on the disabled list and delay a roster decision on him, and either could be kept in the organization via trade, but that’s not for the players to decide. They want to use the remaining few weeks of Grapefruit League action to continue to make an impression.
“I want to show them that I’m ready to compete at the big league level and I’m ready to make this roster,” Tavarez said. “That’s what I want to show them.”