FORT MYERS, FLA. — When Orioles Rule 5 draft pick Anthony Santander was healthy enough to play last summer and the team was forced to add him to the active roster in August, he joined a team that didn't really have a place for him — or anyone else — who wouldn't be contributing.
So as he embarks on a healthy spring with an additional 44 days active on the 25-man roster required before he loses the restrictions that came with the Rule 5 draft, manager Buck Showalter will be looking for more days like Tuesday.
Santander homered to right-center field off right-hander Trevor Hildenberger in the fourth inning of the Orioles' 9-8 loss to the Minnesota Twins at CenturyLink Sports Complex, his second of the spring, and added a sixth-inning single to give him his second multihit game of Grapefruit League play.
"Santander swung the bat well again," Showalter said. "It's good to see Anthony get it going, because we need him to be more than just a guy who's trying to get 40 games under his belt.
"We're looking at this guy as someone we hope can stick and be a contributor. He's worked really hard defensively, running, everything. He's trying to make a mark."
As a strapping 23-year-old switch-hitter, Santander has long been coveted for his bat. But the Orioles were willing to ignore the fact that he had shoulder surgery in the fall of 2016 and selected him from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 draft that December.
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He collected eight hits, including three doubles, in 30 at-bats as a rookie at the end of 2017, but has more closely resembled his prior form so far this spring. Santander has hits in six of his nine spring games and is batting .333/.320/.625.
Whether Showalter is able to use him liberally come Opening Day on March 29 will hinge on the rest of his game, but the manager has praised Santander's work with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson on improving his speed and defense to go with what was already a strong arm.
Rival evaluators have always known about the potential in Santander’s bat, which he showed both in 2016 in the Cleveland Indians organization and in 2017 on his rehab assignment, but they’re impressed with his trimmed-down physique and the corresponding athleticism it’s helping him show in the outfield. One scout posited that he was one of the team’s top bats in camp.
Santander's two hits Tuesday were bested only by catcher Caleb Joseph, who had three in as many chances to raise his spring average to .462. Third baseman Danny Valencia homered for the first time this spring in the second inning, while center fielder Craig Gentry and first baseman Trey Mancini had two hits apiece.