The Orioles’ outfielders have gotten familiar with each other. Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart have played together on minor league teams and they’re in major league camp with the Orioles for the third consecutive season.
Two others, Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna, have yet to play in the major leagues. Both could this year. So could Jahmai Jones, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for Alex Cobb, and Chris Shaw, picked up on waivers from the San Francisco Giants.
“You start to combine all those players and you see the depth that we have now,” Hays said in a video conference call from Sarasota, Florida.
“I think it brings out the best in all of us. We’re out there competing against really good outfielders on a daily basis, so nobody takes reps off. Nobody takes swings off, nobody takes any days off. In turn, that’s just going to make all of the outfielders continue to get better because nobody gets complacent.”
Santander is the most established outfielder of the group. He was taken in the Rule 5 draft from Cleveland in December 2016, and last season was named Most Valuable Oriole after hitting .261 with an .890 OPS. Santander hit 11 home runs and drove in 32 runs before his season ended on September 4th because of an oblique injury.
“It took about six weeks to be totally healthy, and about four weeks for rehab,” Santander said through a translator. “I started on my flexibility, on my mobility, and I think it paid off. I feel I’m in great shape and ready for 162 games.”
Santander is in his first season of arbitration eligibility, there have been reports that teams are interested in acquiring the 26-year-old, who was a finalist for the Gold Glove in right field.
“I heard rumors, but that didn’t take away from the time that I spent concentrating on my body, concentrating on the team, working on my skills and getting ready for spring training,” Santander said.
Santander didn’t accept the Orioles’ offer of $2.1 million. He filed for $2.475 million and lost the case. He said he’s not upset.
“No, not really, this is a business,” Santander said. “They’re trying to do their job, my agent is trying to do his. That didn’t take away from the focus of me being ready for spring training, me being in good shape. That’s my main goal.”
Health is the main goal for Hays, who first came to the Orioles in September 2017 after an outstanding minor league season at High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. But injuries, particularly a right ankle injury in 2018 that resulted in surgery, have prevented him from playing through a full season since 2017.
Last year, Hays missed a month because of fractured ribs. He hit .279 in 33 games with a .722 OPS with four home runs and nine RBIs. He’s eager to prove that he can stay healthy.
“I think it’s the most important thing in my career that I’ve had to prove, probably up to this point,” Hays said. “I’ve proven in a short span of time I can have success at the big-league level. Unfortunately, I’ve had some bad luck with injuries, things that have gone awry.
“Hopefully, those are in the past and we don’t have to deal with that anymore … I can just play my game and put together 160 games, like how my 2017 season was, and show that I can perform at a high level for a full season.”
Hays started 20 games in center field, eight in left and three in right. The eight games in left were the first time he played there in the majors. That versatility is going to be important since Mullins showed he could be an offensive and defensive force and play an outstanding center field.
“I think I’m an everyday outfielder in the big leagues, whether that’s at center field, left field, right field,” Hays said. “I think I have the speed and the arm strength to play any one of those three positions, and I have the power to be a corner outfielder and the speed to be a center fielder as well, so wherever that lands me, it lands me. I’m just looking to take advantage of that opportunity.”
As a Rule 5 player in 2017 and 2018, Santander got to play with the core of star players who helped the Orioles to three postseason berths from 2012-2016.
“Being surrounded by players like Adam Jones, [Jonathan] Schoop, [Manny] Machado, that was such a great learning experience, something I’ll cherish forever,” Santander said. “I was able to learn what they do on a daily basis, the little things and how they go about the game, the adjustments they have to make. It was a tremendous experience, and I’m trying to use that now, trying to help the team win as many games as possible and help my teammates, be there for them.”