Santander's hot bat prompts trial in center

July 5th, 2019

TORONTO -- For the first time in his professional career at any level, found himself listed as the starting center fielder on Friday night’s lineup card in Toronto.

Santander has played the corner outfield positions for the Orioles, as well as with Triple-A Norfolk, this season, but manager Brandon Hyde is eager to try creative ideas in an effort to maximize Baltimore’s lineup. Santander has only played three career innings in center, but his manager is confident that he can handle the challenge.

“We’re going to give him a look out there. I want to see his bat in the lineup, and he’s been working out in center field a little,” Hyde said prior to Friday’s opener against the Blue Jays.

It’s just in the experimental phase for now with the 24-year-old Santander, but as the young Orioles continue to rebuild from the ground up, these are the types of things they can afford to try out in live games.

Santander struggled at the plate with the Orioles in 2017 and ‘18, but he’s made an impact over his 25 games this season with an .803 OPS and four home runs. This decision was primarily sparked by Santander’s bat, but Hyde has also been impressed by the work he’s put in defensively. He wouldn’t be throwing him out there if he didn’t think Santander could potentially handle it.

“He takes his defense seriously. He works hard every single day, before batting practice and during batting practice taking live balls off the bat,” Hyde said. “He’s getting better and better every day. The more positions you can play in the field, the more value you’re going to have.”

The Orioles would love to find some offensive output from their center field position, too, which has been a bit of a revolving door this season.

Stevie Wilkerson has started 27 games there, but he hit just .212 with a .630 OPS this season. Keon Broxton has started 26, but he comes with the same offensive struggles as he’s hitting just .194 with a .547 OPS.

Santander now has an opening to carve out more of a role in the second half, and offensively, he should be able to live up to the challenge. His defense will be another matter entirely, but it’s time for him to jump into the deep end and see if he can swim.

“There’s challenges for sure,” Hyde said. “It’s going to be some experience for him. I talked to him about it a few weeks ago. He’s been doing some stuff out there, but you’re never going to get experience unless you’re thrown out there.”