Anthony Santander, one of two outfielders the Orioles selected in the Rule 5 draft this winter, underwent a MRA of his right elbow Thursday and will be shelved for a few days.
It’s bad news in that it will make it more difficult for the Orioles to evaluate Santander’s ability to play defense before a decision on his future has to be made.
It’s concerning news in that this is an elbow injury and the 22-year-old switch-hitter already had right shoulder surgery in the offseason.
But, then again, maybe it is a fortuitous development for the Orioles. Stick with me.
From the moment the Orioles took Santander from the Cleveland Indians and 24-year-old Aneury Tavarez from the Boston Red Sox in December’s Rule 5 draft, the question was, how are they going to keep both on the roster all season?
The simple answer was that they wouldn’t have to. That Santander would probably start the season on the disabled list while recovering from shoulder surgery. That’s one way around roster crunches involving Rule 5 players. They can be stashed on the big-league DL – assuming they are actually injured – for a while. So long as they log 90 active days on a big-league roster in a season, they become property of that claiming organization. Santander looked like an initial DL stash.
But he was ready to go at the start of spring training, at least from a hitting standpoint. He’s had 28 at-bats in the spring, getting seven hits (.250 average), including two homers.
He has yet to play in the field, though. And now that’s been delayed with this elbow discomfort.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Thursday that he’s not in a position where he can take a player north and keep him on the 25-man roster all season – what you must do with a Rule 5 pick or offer him back to his original club for $50,000, half of the original purchase price – if the player’s defense is an unknown.
“It’s kind of tough with Santander because we haven’t been able to see him out in the field,” Showalter said. “You’re not gonna be able to carry somebody, Rule 5, that can’t handle themselves defensively. It just won’t work.”
Time is running out for Santander to show his ability as an outfielder – and so you’d think time is running out on him as an Oriole. Because the Venezuelan’s ceiling is too high for the Cleveland Indians to decide they don’t want him back.
But the Orioles aren’t exactly drowning in outfield prospects or power in the minor leagues. This is the kind of guy who could really help in a year or two if they can somehow keep him.
Cue the elbow MRA.
I’m not suggesting this is another case of the Flaherty Flu — the mysterious sickness that felled Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty for a chunk of the 2012 season. But if Santander is dealing with an elbow issue that sidelines him for a little bit, well, a decision can be shelved for a bit, too.
In an interview with reporters Thursday, Showalter intimated that the elbow discomfort isn’t a major surprise to the club, that there were some things during Santander’s physical that at least were worth monitoring.
“Looking at the physical and the history and everything, we want to make sure we know what we’re dealing with there before we push forward,” Showalter said. “Knowing the history of everything he’s had, it’s something we want to make sure we get our arms around before he goes into the outfield.”
If Santander is out of the Opening Day equation, it would seem to reason that Tavarez has a better chance to go north with the club. His speed is something the Orioles definitely could use, but he hasn’t shown the defensive prowess that must go with that to guarantee him a 25-man roster spot.
Primarily a second baseman previously, Tavarez is still transitioning some to the outfield. And there are times when that is evident, like in a recent Grapefruit League game when Tavarez ran down a ball – and then overran it.
“His talent is going to allow him to get some balls that other people won’t. Will the lack of experience get in the way of completing the plays? You see the long ball that he ran a long way and overran,” Showalter said of Tavarez. “He’s probably one of the few guys in camp that could get to that ball, but the experience of breaking (it) down, knowing that you’re going to run right by that and you gotta get under control, that’s what you’re looking for. That skill and that (speed) tool don’t play unless you can finish the play and break it down.”
Frankly, the Orioles took Santander and Tavarez in December because they had some real outfield concerns. Since then, they’ve traded for Seth Smith, re-signed Mark Trumbo, added Craig Gentry, Chris Dickerson and Michael Bourn on minor league deals and are experimenting with Pedro Alvarez and Trey Mancini in right.
Gentry is healthy and can play defense and run. He’s a real candidate to make the 25-man roster. Bourn, who is sidelined with a fractured finger, can do the same.
There is not as much of a need for Tavarez or Santander on the 25-man roster now. But the Orioles might still find a way to keep at least one – as a play for the future more than as solution for 2017.