NOW THREE years into his AFL career, Oskar Baker knows it’s time to take his game to the next level.

The 22-year-old, who was recruited with pick No.48 in the 2017 National Draft, managed just three senior games this season, but with that, his self-belief has increased significantly.

“It took a bit longer than I wanted, to get into the team, but it got to the point where I was in the team and I wanted the season to keep going,” Baker told Melbourne Media.

“I was enjoying myself that much and I was pretty flat when we didn’t make finals – bit of a missed opportunity – but it was good to get back in.”

Baker’s start to 2020 wasn’t ideal.

He faced lingering groin issues over the pre-season and didn’t do enough prior to Round 5 to earn a spot on the plane for the beginning of Melbourne’s hub journey.

But in hindsight, that may have been the best thing for him.

“Not being in the hub initially, and to be able to come in and cement my spot in the team for three games and have an impact was pleasing,” Baker said.

“It definitely was frustrating, but also a little bit of a wake-up call.

“It drove me to work harder and put a lot of work in behind the scenes to put myself back in a position to get back in the team.

“And not only to get in the team, but once I got in the team, be able to have an impact and put my strengths on show.”

Baker did that at the backend of the home and away season, impressing with his speed on the wing and starring with a two-goal performance against the Giants in Round 17.

It was this ability to compete at the top level that assures Baker that his development is on track.

“I was pretty raw last year, definitely this year I felt a lot fitter, a lot stronger, bigger bodied and I felt like I had more of an impact than I did in previous years,” he said.

“I was able to run out games a bit more and I was a bit stronger around the contest.

“I think my game as a whole felt a lot better and in better shape.”

But there’s one thing Baker needs to do if he wants to cement his spot in Melbourne’s best 22 next year: run.

“I want to have a big pre-season and build my tank up,” he said.

“I want to be a bit more like Langers (Ed Langdon) in that wing role – he runs all day, whereas I’m more a short burst player at the moment.

“So I definitely want to build up my tank and be able to do a similar role to what Langers does – run all day down the wing and be able to play a lot more minutes.”

Baker is under no illusions that hard work is the key to success for him this pre-season, and he will begin that grind in familiar surroundings, having stayed in Queensland after the Dees’ campaign concluded.

“I definitely want to do half in Brisbane to see family and friends, and then go back to Melbourne for the other half and be able to train with a few of the boys,” he said.

“As I said, I’ll work on my endurance, have a really good off-season break and come back in really good shape, firing to go.”