Santander Soars Past Elbow Struggles of Seasons Past

Anthony Santander is a textbook example of why aggressive minor league promotions can often lead to struggles. The 20 year old, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2011 at 16, showed more than promise during his first year with the Indians organization. In the Arizona Rookie League, the outfielder made heads turn as he triple slashed .305/.381/.874 in 43 games. He knocked in 32 runs and amassed 47 hits, 15 doubles, one triple, and four home runs.

His performance earned the then-18 year old a promotion to Lake County for the following season, as he jumped over short-season play with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in favor of an immediate immersion into full-season professional baseball.

The promotion may have been handing Santander a bit more than he could chew. In 61 games, he hit .242 with a .672 OPS. He was down one RBI from his previous season with 31, and collected 53 total hits, 13 doubles, and five home runs.

However, that first season in Lake County was also marred with an elbow injury that sidelined Santander for parts of 2013, and held his 2014 season to only 43 games. In those 43 games, Santander hit .184 with only 30 hits.

It could be compared to Jason Kipnis’ struggles last year following his oblique injury early in the season – Santander had an injury and struggled with performance ever since. He spent much of his last two seasons in and out of rehabbing his elbow and working to get back to being the power hitter he was at the time of his signing.

This season, Santander saw his first taste of short-season ball, as he started the year with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. After two seasons of struggles, it seems that his lulls were finally in the past. In a mere eight games with the Scrappers, Santander hit .419 and boasted a 1.389 OPS. He had 13 hits, six doubles, and three home runs in 35 plate appearances, and drove in nine runs.

He was quickly promoted to the Captains, where he saw the field of Classic Park for the third time in his career. Luckily, though, this seems to be another example of the third time being a charm.

In 14 games thus far with the Captains, Santander has a .321 batting average with 18 hits and four doubles. He leads the team in average and is fifth on the current roster with his .754 OPS.

“He’s just older, he has a better approach,” Manager Shaun Larkin said of Santander’s progression with the Captains this season. “He’s using the whole field and banging some balls to left field, center field, and right. That’s the biggest thing for him this year as compared to past years that I’ve seen from him, utilizing the whole field.”

Santander is an outfielder when he’s in the field, and has made only five errors in play throughout his whole career with the Indians. With the Indians abundance of center fielders, however, Santander’s focus will likely need to change – he is not an outfielder who will oust the likes of Bradley Zimmer or Clint Frazier. Santander, instead, has the makings of a strong designated hitter. As a switch hitter, he could provide some bat power that Indians fans have been clamoring for. He is currently hitting .476 at a right-handed batter against lefty pitching, and .318 batting left-handed against right-handed hurlers.

At only 20, Santander’s career is only just getting started in earnest. He has more than enough time to continue to rebound from his elbow issues and maintain his momentum at the plate.

“He’s not muscling everything,” Larkin said of Santander. “He’s more advanced and a year older and he’s understanding how to hit. You combine that with a big, strong frame and what he can do, it works out pretty well for him.”

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer

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