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Eyes will be on Orioles Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander's defense this spring

The Orioles entered their exhibition schedule with a bevy of candidates to play right field — from surging rookie Austin Hays to just-signed veteran Colby Rasmus. And a left-right platoon of those two might be the most likely situation without knowing how the Grapefruit League season will shake out.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter still wants to see more of Anthony Santander, the switch-hitting outfielder whose Rule 5 draft requirements carry over to 2018, meaning the team must still carry him on the 25-man active roster for the first six weeks of the season or offer him back to the Cleveland Indians.

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Santander, 23, saw action in 14 spring games last year before starting the regular season on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. His debut was then delayed by an elbow problem, and by the time he joined the active roster, it was clear he wouldn’t be able to fulfill the 90 consecutive days a Rule 5 pick must stay on the roster to meet the requirements, meaning his time would have to carry over into the beginning of this season.

The Orioles believe Santander can hit, even though he posted a pedestrian .625 OPS in his 13 games with the Orioles and struck out in eight of his 31 plate appearances without a walk. Ideally, he probably needs more seasoning in the minors, and the club would likely option him once he meets the Rule 5 requirements.

But for now, the Orioles must figure out how he can help them for the beginning in the season, especially when it seems the team is on course for a platoon in right field.

“It’s been something he knows,” Showalter said of Santander having to prove himself defensively. “We’ve talked to him about [it]. It’s really an organizational thing. ‘OK, you can hit, you have the chance to be a good hitter, but can you play on both sides of the ball, because if you’re driving in one and letting in two …’ ”

Santander will receive his share of playing time this spring, and he started the Orioles’ 6-3 Grapefruit League-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday.

In the game, Santander showed his offensive potential, roping a standup double into the right-center-field gap with two outs in the bottom of the fourth.

But it will be Santander’s ability to play right field – particular how well he’s able to cover ground, his instincts and how well he can make reads and pursue balls hit around him – that will determine whether the Orioles will be able to lean on him or have to overcome his deficiencies like some Rule 5 picks of the past.

“It’s not really the plays they don’t make,” Showalter said. “It’s the plays that go unnoticed in the error column, [being] slow to the ball where you should have thrown the guy out at second where there’s no error, a ball you don’t cut off in the gap that becomes a triple instead of a single but doesn’t show up in the error column. Those are some of the things you look into.”

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