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Anthony Santander is finishing strong this winter. Can he factor into the Orioles' 2019 plans?

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

One of the few remaining Orioles left playing winter ball could be setting himself up with a real springboard into a pivotal spring training.

Outfielder Anthony Santander, who didn't make a mark last season as he finished up his Rule 5 draft requirements and wasn't called back up when rosters expanded in September, is currently in the playoffs with Tigres de Aragua after a strong end to the regular season salvaged his time in his native Venezuela this winter.

Santander hit .355 in his last 10 games while ending the winter on a nine-game hitting streak, bringing his average from .227 to .255. He had a two-hit game to open the playoffs and had another two-hit performance, including his first home run of the postseason, to help stave off elimination Tuesday.

And the longer he and Tigres keep playing, the more valuable this experience will be for a player who might have to play his way onto the roster, even under a new Orioles regime.

A Rule 5 pick in 2017 who didn't debut that year until August because of elbow and shoulder injuries, Santander played sparingly down the stretch that season and had a seven-week stint as the Orioles' primary right fielder in 2018 after Colby Rasmus lasted a week before going down with a hip injury.

Santander hit .198 with a .547 OPS before the team was able to send him down, and had 17 extra-base hits while batting .258 with a .695 OPS at Double-A Bowie before he went on the disabled list with an infection in his knee. His season never got back on track once he returned, even though he ended the year at Triple-A Norfolk. But by the time rosters expanded, the Orioles left him in the minors.

With Cedric Mullins taking over in center field, Adam Jones still in the picture, and John Andreoli and Joey Rickard still in the mix at the end of 2018, plus DJ Stewart making his debut a week after rosters expanded, Santander was deemed surplus.

Last year was always meant to be a season for him to re-establish himself at a minor league level appropriate for his age after the Orioles took him from High-A to the majors as a Rule 5 pick. That didn't necessarily happen, but Santander did improve defensively at the team's request.

However, his slimmed physique came at the detriment of his power, which was his calling card when the club selected him. If he's getting his swing back with the regular playing time on a Venezuelan Winter League team that also features slugger Jesus Aguilar and infielder Franklin Barreto, he could be an interesting option for manager Brandon Hyde in a crowded Orioles outfield that will also feature Trey Mancini and possibly Austin Hays.

But with all that depth in place, Santander could just as easily find himself on the outside looking in again if he can't show he’s worthy of a roster spot. A clean slate with Hyde and company will help, but so too will the confidence he might carry to Sarasota, Fla., next month.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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