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Will Anthony Santander be returned to the Cleveland Indians this season?

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The Rule 5 draftee can’t just be stashed on the Orioles’ disabled list all year.

Baltimore Orioles Photo Day
Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of that jersey soon.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

When the Baltimore Orioles selected Anthony Santander with the final pick in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft, it took a lot of people by surprise.

Not because Santander doesn’t deserve the recognition, mind you. The 22-year-old outfielder slashed .290/.368/.494 with 20 home runs for the Cleveland Indians’ High-A squad in 2016 and he was quickly (but quietly) becoming a prospect worth knowing. But he has never faced pitching above High-A and his potential is still very raw. He seemed pretty safe from the prying eyes of opposing teams, so the Indians left him off the 40-man roster, exposed to the draft.

By selecting him in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 draft, the Orioles are compelled to either hold him on their 25-man roster for the entire season or return him to the Indians. So why on earth would they do it?

Well, for one, the Orioles really really love the Rule 5 draft. I’m not saying there’s a high chance executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was throwing darts at a board and randomly landed on Santander because he wanted to picking someone, but the chance of that being true is higher than zero percent. More realistically, the Orioles saw that Santander was coming off of shoulder surgery and they thought they could stash him on the disabled list for the majority of the season.

The Orioles, like every team not named the Indians, only had limited information on Santander prior to the draft. All they saw was that he had shoulder surgery after finishing up his stellar 2016 campaign. Shortly after the draft, Duquette had this to say:

It’s in his right shoulder. We didn’t have access to all the medicals on him, but we had [some] access and we’re comfortable in that we think he’s worth a shot based on his talent as a hitter to add him to our roster. … We’re going to find out a little bit more about [whether he will be ready for spring training], but I believe he’s got good ability and power from both sides of the plate. He has youth and very good offensive ability.

If it was something serious, the Orioles could have found themselves in possession of another Victor Martinez for basically nothing. Otherwise, they would be stuck with a 22-year-old way above his head taking up four percent of their major-league roster.

Well, as it turns out, Santander’s injury was not anything serious like a torn labrum or even anything that requires a disabled list stint. In a recent report from Press Box Online, Santander revealed that the surgery was simply to remove a bone spur from his shoulder. He is already working in spring training, even hitting from both sides of the plate. Barring a setback, it looks like he will be ready to go on Opening Day.

That leaves the Orioles with two options: Keep Santander on their roster for the entire season, hope he isn’t consistently overmatched and potentially ruining his development; or send him home to Cleveland.