Anthony Sanders Blast Baltimore Orioles saying..

Anthony Sanders: “A real talented group that makes my job a little bit easier” in reference to the Orioles outfielders.

Kansas City The last innings of the game on Saturday night supported Anthony Sanders, the first base coach for the Orioles.

As the team’s instructor, working with the outfielders fosters a greater understanding of the group’s capabilities.

After Maikel Garcia’s run-scoring single in the seventh inning, Colton Cowser, a late replacement in left field because Austin Hays was experiencing some calf muscle cramps that might put him on the injured list today, threw out Kyle Isbel trying to advance to third base, allowing the once-comfortable lead to slip away.

The Orioles led 9-7 in the bottom of the ninth and closer Craig Kimbrel retired the Royals in order, but after right fielder Anthony Santander charged Bobby Witt Jr.’s shallow fly ball and made a sensational diving catch.

Preventing the leadoff hitter from reaching was one of the biggest moments in the game.

“We’ve got off to a good start,” Sanders said yesterday morning. “We’ve got some good young kids here, some veteran guys. A real talented group that makes my job a little bit easier.

“Skip (Brandon Hyde) talked about it all the time. Pitching will show up with the defense behind them. They’ve got to be able to trust us out there, the infield and the outfield. These guys can make some plays and we take a lot of pride in it. The play (Friday) night with Cowser was huge. I know that was maybe not a smart decision to run right in his face, but now they know.”

Yes, they do.

If word of Cowser’s improved defense isn’t spreading, folks just aren’t paying attention.

“I think last year was a good stepping stone for him,” Sanders said. “To come up here and get his feet wet, to see what it’s like, get an offseason and then come to spring training hitting the ground running. Confidence is high. Very talented guy. Can play all three. Played a lot of center field in the minor leagues, and now getting adjusted to the corners out here, and he’s done a really good job.”

Sanders agreed with a reporter yesterday that Santander is underrated in the field, with status as a Gold Glove finalist in 2020 unable to stick. The metrics haven’t been favorable until an upswing this year. He seems to the naked eye to be covering more ground, with impressive catches in right-center and near the line in addition to the Witt robbery.

“To me, the main thing is just his health” Sanders said. “A lot of times people don’t see behind the scenes, when his body is banged up a little bit. But when he’s healthy and 100 percent, he’s one of the best in the league.”

Mullins was a finalist in center field in 2022 and Hyde bangs that drum until his hands bleed.

He isn’t performing a solo.

“We keep talking about it every year. In spring training, that’s the talk,” Sanders said.

“My first year here, Santander’s name was mentioned, and obviously you know what Haysy does out there in left field in Baltimore, which is not easy. But Ced’s a game-changer out there and he takes a lot of pride in his defense.”

Last Monday’s diving grab in left-center, with Mullins breaking at a 45-degree angle and laying out for the ball, will rank among the top gems in 2024 – even if the Statcast’s catch probability routinely downgrades the difficulty of his catches.

Asked if there’s anything Mullins can do to surprise him, Sanders replied, “He surprised me the other day at home. I’ll tell you that.”

“A lot of times with a good outfielder, as soon as you look up and the guy’s already moving, you know they got a good jump, and Ced’s always one step ahead of me,” Sanders added. “He knows what he’s doing out there.”

I asked Sanders about Heston Kjerstad, the former second-overall draft pick with the thunderous bat and focus on improving defensively.

It was a priority over the winter and throughout spring training. Can’t shove the kid into a full-time role as designated hitter. Got to trust him in the outfield corners.

“Unbelievable,” Sanders said of Kjerstad’s progress. “To me, that was the highlight of spring training other than (Kyle) Stowers and some of the other young outfielders – Kjerstad coming in, showing that he can play defense. He’s put a lot of work into it behind the scenes. Hopefully, it shows when he gets here.”

(You’ve got to wonder how much longer, with his .349 average, 1.175 OPS, four doubles, 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 21 games. Would the Orioles bring up a left-handed bat if Hays does, indeed, go on the IL? But that’s another subject.)

Sanders also is the baserunning instructor, and other than Gunnar Henderson getting picked off at third base this weekend, it’s been a team strength.

Sports Info Solutions ranks the Orioles first in the majors in its “net bases gained” statistic, which measures all aspects of baserunning, including going first-to-third on singles, advancing on wild pitches, passed balls and other means, stealing bases and avoiding grounding into double plays.

Mullins was thrown out trying to steal yesterday – the Orioles challenged and lost – but he swiped second  base later to make the club 15-for-16.

“I’m very impressed with it (baserunning),” Sanders said. “The stolen bases aren’t up there with the league leaders but all the little things behind the scenes of guys going first to third, dirt balls. We’ve still got a long way to go but we’ve got some talent in there to get it done.”

The 15 steals were tied for 12th in the majors as the Orioles boarded their flight to Anaheim. Mullins and Henderson were tied for the team lead with four. Cowser and Jordan Westburg had three and Jorge Mateo one.

Mateo led the American League with 35 in 2022 and finished with 32 last season, but his playing time is severely reduced with Henderson entrenched at shortstop and Jackson Holliday getting most of the starts at second base.

Sanders believes that the club’s overall steal total will increase.

He declared, “I think it’s coming.” Many of these kids arrived in the major leagues quite quickly, which is likely one of the last skills to develop. However, they are fully equipped and capable of completing the task. That’s something I predict you’ll see a lot more of in the future.

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