Kansas City, Mo. — It’s mostly happenstance that for the second year in a row, the Orioles are in Kansas City as rosters expand.
Anthony Santander, one of the few players who was left in the minors last year despite being on the 40-man roster, is choosing a timely weekend for an offensive explosion. He is illustrating why this year’s September call-ups might not need to include some of the club’s most prominent prospects.
Santander’s two-homer game in Saturday’s 7-5 loss to the Royals gave him 16 for the season and three in the first two games of this series. A switch-hitter, he’s batting .291 with an .848 OPS.
His emergence is a big reason it’s no given that players who were once far ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, such as Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins, might end up being left in the minors this month.
“What a luxury to have a guy that can switch-hit and do damage from both sides of the plate,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s got a ton of confidence, too. He’s a confident guy that isn’t fazed by anything, and wants to play every day and wants to face the elite pitchers.”
It’s all a far cry from the version of Santander who was in the majors last year, one who hit .214 with one home run and a .565 OPS in 46 games at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 while he satisfied his Rule 5 draft requirements.
During the stint in 2017, Hays came up to the majors for the first time as well and was introduced as a future outfield fixture for the Orioles. The same goes for Mullins in August 2018 as he took over center field for Adam Jones.
At that point, Santander was dealing with a leg injury, and when rosters expanded, he’d just gotten to Triple-A Norfolk. He had 11 Triple-A games last year after a pedestrian time in Double-A, and the Orioles had Mullins, Jones, Trey Mancini, DJ Stewart, Joey Rickard and John Andreoli in the majors ahead of him when rosters expanded last year.
The Santander who has made himself an everyday player for the Orioles — even adding center field to his repertoire — is a far cry from that one.
“Last year is just part of the history,” Santander said through translator Ramón Alarcón. “I’m just very happy to be here this year. It’s a new year, new opportunity, new team, and I’m very happy for everything that’s gone on so far.”
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With Dwight Smith Jr. recalled from Norfolk on Sunday to join a group that already includes Santander, Mancini, Stevie Wilkerson, Stewart and Jace Peterson, Mullins and Hays might find themselves on the outside this year the way Santander was last year.
It wouldn’t mean their seasons are over. Hays could go to the Arizona Fall League to get an extra month’s worth of at-bats there, and with Bowie on the cusp of the playoffs, Mullins could be playing there until the middle of September.
Hyde wouldn’t speculate before Saturday’s game on whether there would be playing time for such players if they were called up. He was much more definitive on Santander’s value and what he has added to these Orioles.
“He’s just got a really simple swing from both sides,” Hyde said. “You see some guys where they look a little different and you can tell one side is a little more natural than the other. With Tony, it seems like both sides are really natural for him. … He’s just going to be a really good player, and pitchers are going to start making adjustments to him. I think he’s got the ability to make adjustments back because his swing is so simple.”
Trumbo to join O’s on Monday
Designated hitter Mark Trumbo, a year removed from knee surgery, will join the Orioles on Monday in Tampa Bay to be activated off the injured list, Hyde said.
“He’s gone through a lot this season to reach tomorrow,” Hyde said. “There’s a lot of work that’s been put on, not only by him, but the training staff, [head athletic trainer Brian Ebel] and all the boys, to get him back to being activated. I know it’s a big deal for them as well to him to get to this next step of being able to play, so we’re excited. I’m excited to have Mark. He’s been in the clubhouse quite a bit, but now to be active, and to be a part of our club and be available, we’re real excited to have him tomorrow.”
Trumbo will have to come off the 60-day injured list and be readded to the 40-man roster, meaning the team will have to remove someone from the roster. September call-ups began Sunday with reliever Shawn Armstrong activated from the injured list and Smith, Branden Kline and Tanner Scott recalled from Norfolk.