Santander aims to leave injuries in past, eyes healthy '22

March 20th, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The O's are well aware what kind of damage a healthy Anthony Santander can do; they just haven't quite yet figured out how to keep him that way.

They saw the potential when they scooped him up in the Rule 5 Draft in 2016, and they were as excited as anyone when he collected 32 RBIs and hit13 doubles, a triple and 11 homers across 37 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

That same hope for Santander's future led O's manager Brandon Hyde to keep his switch-hitting outfielder out of Grapefruit League action until Sunday, and even then, Santander was held to a designated-hitter role. He'll rest Monday, DH again on Tuesday and then shift to the outfield in a gradual progression designed to get him ready for the season but also let him ease into things as much as possible.

"I want to make sure he's 100 percent," Hyde said Sunday prior to the O's 3-2 loss to the Red Sox at JetBlue Park. "I don't want to go back to him playing like he did last year, and playing hurt. I want him to play healthy. We know what kind of player he is when he's healthy."

This early in the year -- especially after Santander's painful 2021 – it's better to be safe than sorry. But with Hyde announcing that veteran Trey Mancini will begin to see time in the outfield corners and a crop of talented outfielders on the cusp like O's No. 11 prospect Kyle Stowers and No. 12 prospect Yusniel Diaz, 2022 might be a pivotal year for Santander.

Santander finished 0-for-3 in his spring debut Sunday, but on-field results are not nearly as important as getting back into the routine and putting the regular wear and tear on his body to prepare for what's hopefully a 162-game season ahead for him. He's proven he can produce, and now's the time to prove he can also stay healthy.

"I'd say I'm probably 90 percent there, and it's been great getting back into the swing of things here in Spring Training," Santander said through O's interpreter Brandon Quinones.

The 27-year-old was an American League Gold Glove Award finalist in 2020, but his injury history is also well-documented, the most severe of which was a lat strain that prematurely ended what was growing into a breakout 2020 campaign.

Last year was unfortunately no different, as hamstring, ankle and knee injuries kept him from playing fully healthy from April 20 until he was ultimately shut down Sept. 28.

Santander returned home in the offseason, shed 10 pounds and worked on his defense, both activities he said were "big points of emphasis." Will it be enough to wipe the slate clean?

He certainly hopes so.

"I was injured, but I want to leave that in the past," he said Sunday. "This is a new season and a new year, and I just want to focus on what's to come."

Hey, you look familiar …
If Sunday starter Denyi Reyes looked comfortable at Fenway South, there's a pretty good reason for that.

The big righty signed with the Red Sox as an undrafted free agent shortstop in 2014. Boston converted Reyes into a pitcher shortly afterward -- no doubt to maximize his long limbs and imposing frame -- and in 2019, he was Boston's No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

He was also in big league camp with the Red Sox in 2019 and '20.

"It's funny," said Reyes on pitching against the team that signed him out of the Dominican Republic at 17 years old. "I was here with the Boston Red Sox for seven years, and they gave me the opportunity to play the sport that I love, so it's good to come back here."

Reyes cracked the Red Sox's 40-man roster in late 2018 as the club ostensibly tried to shield him from the Rule 5 Draft, and he wowed as high as Double-A with incredible command that saw him average an impressively low 1.3 walks per nine innings across six career seasons (112 games).

Reyes declared free agency following the 2021 season and signed as a free agent with the O's on Nov. 29. An O's non-roster invite this spring, he allowed three runs on five hits across 2 2/3 innings against his former team on Sunday and did not walk a batter.