The past two years have not been kind to the Baltimore Orioles. All-world prospect Adley Rutschman has joined the fray and is perhaps a harbinger of the franchise’s turning fortunes, but the fact is that two consecutive 100-loss seasons have highlighted a glaring dearth of projectable talent on the Major League roster. But that’s not to say that the big league club is entirely without players worth following. Just about a year-and-a-half into Mike Elias’s tenure as general manager, the rebuild in Baltimore still isn’t particularly far along, but I want to discuss an intriguing player brought in by the previous regime who might have done enough to catch Elias’s attention.
Enter 25-year-old outfielder Anthony Santander. Signed by the Indians as an international amateur in 2011, Santander joined the O’s organization as a Rule 5 draft selection prior to the 2016 season. He’s gotten brief looks in the big leagues since then, but he got his first extended chance with the Orioles in 2019 and turned some heads. And with only 544 MLB plate appearances—just about a full season’s worth—under his belt, there’s development still to be done here.
I don’t fancy myself a scout, but let me propose the following comparison: Santander possesses a skillset and physique that is perhaps reminiscent of the Brewers’ Avisail Garcia. Both are big outfielders with a body that points itself to good power output, but they sneak up on you with deceptive athleticism and speed for their size. I see Santander as having the tools to produce numbers similar to those Garcia put up with the Rays last year. And Garcia might not be a star, but don’t get it twisted: he’s a valuable Major League player who fulfilled a role on a playoff club and parlayed that into $20MM last winter.
At 6-2, 190 pounds, Santander’s measurables are definitely a step below the 6-4, 250 lb. Garcia, but Santander has a thick frame and a strong upper body, and definitely looks bigger than his listed weight. And that’s not a bad thing, especially if he can maintain good mobility to go with an imposing presence at the plate: his Statcast sprint speed ranked in the 64th percentile.
Believe it or not, he reached the 20 home run threshold last year, but he still feels like something of an unknown commodity given 2019’s trivialization of that benchmark. He only notched 380 ABs last year, which places him squarely at 19.0 AB/HR, right in line with the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Jose Abreu, and Rhys Hoskins. Obviously, AB/HR is not the go-to for evaluating a batter’s power, but it gives you an idea of what kind of output is possible with a full year of at-bats. Did I mention he’s a switch-hitter?
His batted ball profile (courtesy of Baseball Savant) corroborates that endorsement of his power: his average exit velocity of 89.6 mph ranked in the 61st percentile of Major League hitters, while his average launch angle (14.8˚) is right in the ideal range for power production. For what it’s worth, his maximum 112.9 mph puts him among the top 25% of hitters with at least 100 batted balls in 2019, so his ceiling might be even higher.
Even so, Santander’s power doesn’t compromise his ability to make contact. He struck out in just 21.2% of his plate appearances, which is right about league average—certainly acceptable for someone with his power capability. Now, part of that relatively low strikeout rate might be due to an aggressive approach: his 51.8% swing rate was the 37th-highest among 207 hitters with at least 400 PAs. That said, his swinging strike rate is surprisingly low, at just 9.7%. That’s pretty impressive for someone who can hit the ball as hard as he does. With that in mind, it’s possible that he could afford to be more choosy at the plate; his strikeout rate might climb ever so slightly, but he makes contact consistently enough that he might not suffer by being in deeper counts.
On a similar note, the biggest hole in Santander’s offensive game is his low walk rate. At just 4.7% in 2019, he only managed a .297 OBP. In an ideal world, we’d see that number climb up to about 8%, or roughly league average. That might be a best-case scenario, given that Santander’s already 25 and routinely posted minuscule walk rates during his minor league career. There’s no doubt that Santander’s maturation as a player hinges partly on this skill, and it could be the difference between him becoming, say, Randal Grichuk, or something more.
To this point in Santander’s career, he’s graded out as a roughly average defender, but there may be potential for more here. Last year, he spent 156 innings (or about 1/5 of his total time in the field) in center field, where he notched -4 Defensive Runs Saved. But that number climbed to a very respectable 5 DRS when he was stationed in right field. We know that defensive metrics are notoriously unreliable in small sample sizes, but still: those numbers suggest that if he shifts to a corner full-time, Santander could establish himself as a firmly above average outfielder, which would go a long way towards rounding out his game.
A profile that includes solid defense, above-average speed, and legitimate power from both sides of the plate is hard to come by. The possibility that Santander could grow into a player that provides exactly that makes him, by my estimation, one of the more intriguing players in the Orioles organization, and a possible installment in the lineup for the foreseeable future.