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In the batting cages recently, Anthony Santander spoke his mind, just to remind the hitting coaches present that he isn’t satisfied with his recent home run surge alone.

“I’m a .260 hitter,” the Orioles outfielder told the assembled coaches, including co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller. “I’m not a .230 hitter.”

At Santander’s best, he is a .260 hitter. To this point in the 2024 season, however, Santander is a .230 hitter — a batter relying on a recent power surge that bolsters his on-base-plus-slugging percentage to .803, based mainly on his slugging percentage alone. But before a tremendous June, Santander wasn’t even producing those power numbers — let alone hitting for average — and an inability to catch up consistently to the fastball was the major reason why.

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In particular, Santander struggled to reach high fastballs, and his popup rate rose because of it (about a quarter of his contact against fastballs in April ended in popups).

But as Santander figures out how to hit the fastball again, his performance has soared. His average may not be where he wants it yet, but with 13 homers in June — the most of any Orioles player during that month in franchise history — Santander has re-established himself as a high-OPS hitter.

“I was loading late, so I wasn’t getting to the right spot sooner to be able to see that fastball and react to it,” Santander said. “That’s why this month, I would say mid-May, I started to make that adjustment with that hard, sharp BP, with that high fastball, to see it so I would be able to land early and react to that pitch.”

The batting practice sessions against high-velocity fastballs, as well as miniature foam balls, have helped Santander turn the corner.

As a traditionally strong fastball hitter, Santander began the season with a .151 average and .283 slugging percentage against that offering. He progressed in May, hitting .204 with a .429 slugging percentage, but his numbers have skyrocketed in June — Santander hit .299 against fastballs to go along with a .746 slugging percentage.

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Of his 13 long balls in June, nine of them came against fastballs. In March, April and May, meanwhile, only four of his nine homers came against the heater.

Santander jokes that he prefers the warmer weather, and perhaps there is something to that when it comes to how far a ball flies. But more realistically, Santander’s turnaround is the result of dedicated time spent with Fuller and others in the cages.

“Bat path work was the focus with Tony. And it’s the same old stuff of getting on plane with the ball, the deep contact, hit it to left field like he’s good at, low line-drives oppo, but still being able to hit home runs like he does to the pull-side,” Fuller said. “So instead of kind of swinging too far down, being very steep, not being on plane with the pitch — that’s where you saw the popups a little bit more. It was just getting on-plane with the pitch path a little bit more, working up through it, and his home runs have increased, and his popups have gone down, so that’s obviously way more productive for us.”

The start to this season isn’t the first slump Santander has endured. He remembers a time in Cleveland’s minor league system when he hit “3-for-50 something,” and he learned that organizations have more patience than he feared might be the case.

He learned then to not let the pressure get to him; it would only do more harm than good.

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Nor has Santander allowed the fact he’s an impending free agent alter his demeanor this season.

“Pressure is no good,” Santander said. “Don’t think about how I have to hit good because I got free agency next year, I won’t get the money that I want, all that. There’s no time for that. Tough game. You want to do good, but if you don’t, you don’t need to put pressure, you have to consistently do your routine.”

That routine has returned Santander to his power-hitting ways, particularly against the fastball. But the overall balance to Santander’s batting hasn’t developed yet — his on-base percentage is just .299, compared to .325 last season — leaving more room to grow.

It is just July, however. There’s time yet. And if Santander’s June is anything to go by, the balance will come.

“We know his nickname’s ‘Tony Taters,’” Fuller said. “He’s going to slug. That’s definitely going to be the carrying tool, but the other parts of his game he’s definitely working on increasing as well.”

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Ballpark chatter

“I’d love to keep all of these guys. Unfortunately, we’re probably gonna be out looking for pitching this summer, and as I said before, it’s never gonna be free when somebody’s sending you players, but there are a lot of guys here, especially on this Tides team, that we’ll be trying to steer other teams away from as best we can. But we’ll see how it goes.”

– Orioles general manager Mike Elias, on the Triple-A Norfolk broadcast last week.

When Mike Elias swung the deal to land right-hander Corbin Burnes, he parted with two promising prospects: left-hander DL Hall and infielder Joey Ortiz. All things considered, the price was reasonable.

The Orioles avoided a trade that included their most prized prospects, but as the need for pitching grows, teams will ask for the highest-ranked prospects first. It’s up to Elias whether he can afford to part with them or hold out longer.

The Talent Pipeline

Jacob Calvin Meyer of The Baltimore Sun shared an interesting set of figures last week. The career OPS of prospects in Triple-A before their major league promotions are all great, ranging from Jackson Holliday’s .903, Colton Cowser’s .920 and Gunnar Henderson’s .894.

Coby Mayo, the third baseman pushing for a promotion any day now, has a better OPS than any of them at .959.

“This year really feels like he hasn’t missed a beat,” said infielder Connor Norby, Mayo’s teammate and roommate in Norfolk. “And really not a lot of the guys who have been down there have missed anything. But he’s hitting everything. It’s impressive.”

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The largest sticking point that seems to stand in Mayo’s way is his third base defense, although he’s massively improved in that department over the years. Mayo’s fractured rib — suffered when falling into the dugout chasing a foul ball — may have prevented him from appearing even sooner.”

With the rib, obviously, that didn’t help, but he looks good over there and he’s working really hard,” Norby said. “He’s going to be up here in no time, for sure.”

By the numbers


Why does James McCann play as much as he does, despite a .554 OPS? It has everything to do with Adley Rutschman.

The Orioles want Rutschman in the lineup nearly every night, and to do it as a catcher would be too grueling over 162 games. Rutschman has featured as the designated hitter 27 times this season, and the relative night-off — he’s not crouching for nine innings — has brought strong results. As the DH, Rutschman’s OPS is 1.072. As a catcher, it’s .684. There’s less to juggle when his only role is to hit.

For further reading

🤔 The Orioles owner-in-waiting? David Rubenstein is hard to miss at the ballpark. The last few days of the Texas Rangers series, Rubenstein, the control person and principal owner of the Orioles, was dancing to “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” (he’s not one) with the Oriole Bird atop the home dugout. He then threw some more hats. But it’s worth getting to know Michael Arougheti, another billionaire who is the 51-year-old CEO and president of investment firm Ares Management. Rubenstein said Arougheti is the “logical person” to one day replace him as controlling owner of the Orioles, and The Banner’s Kyle Goon profiled him.

🧘 Simmer down, O’s fans: Jon Meoli wrote a prudent column on the reasons Baltimore fans should temper their expectations ahead of the trade deadline. It’s not going to inspire dreams of acquiring another ace, but the measured approach over the years has gotten the Orioles this far.