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O’s, MLB Navigating Rough COVID Waters Already

sun setting over camden yards

I’d avoided writing about the COVID19 pandemic here on Eutaw Street Report for months. The news has dominated all of our lives for nearly five months now, and it seemed somehow inappropriate to opine on it as it related to baseball. Others here at ESR have filled the void at various times, including Andrew Stetka and Aidan Griesser, and for that I’m thankful.

Speaking of being thankful, I was just that – apprehensively, but completely – when MLB play resumed last weekend. The Birds putting a spanking on the Boston Red Sox in Fenway was just icing on the cake.

Of course though, like seemingly everything else in 2020, no good news could exist without being immediately overshadowed by bad.

The bad reared its ugly head in the form of the Miami Marlins having a sudden outbreak of COVID19 among their team and coaches. In a nasty little twist of fate, the Marlins are of course the team that the O’s were scheduled to play following their series victory in Boston – two games in Miami followed by two games in Baltimore.

The team initially noticed this outbreak over the weekend, at which point the Marlins apparently took it upon themselves to play their game against the Phillies Sunday in Philadelphia, despite knowing that some of their teammates had already tested positive. This incredibly shortsighted and irresponsible decision on the part of the Marlins has not unexpectedly resulted in the situation spiraling out of control in subsequent days.

Monday’s game in Miami was postponed/cancelled. Tonight’s was as well, and the Orioles have returned to Baltimore. The scheduled games in Baltimore look unlikely to happen as well.

This is good news in a way, as last night it looked like Miami had still planned to travel to Baltimore in the coming days, bringing their outbreak with them. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan must be breathing a sigh of relief that this is no longer the plan; like all politicians around the world, he never signed up for any of this type of crisis, but many would have pointed the finger directly at him should he had allowed Miami’s team to bring their SARScoV2 outbreak into the Old Line State.

So, what now?

One of our ESR staff, Paul Valle, had a potential creative solution, which he posted to Twitter.

Lo and behold, it looks like such a scenario may come to fruition.

We’ll all continue to watch with bated breath as the situation continues to unfold. We all want the MLB season to continue, but the league and players need to prove that they can navigate these rough and uncharted waters astutely and intelligently. That is to say, no more of this:

Other leagues are also watching closely. Hopefully we won’t all be relegated to betting on virtual sports for the balance of 2020.

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Thursday Thoughts: Here We Go…I Guess?

sunset view of oriole park at camden yards

1. With the Orioles set to embark on what is sure to be the weirdest of their 65+ seasons in Baltimore, things are still extremely weird and uncomfortable in the world around them. It’s not even really a world around them, it’s the world they’re directly living in. It’s the same one we’re all living in, and it hasn’t seemed to get much better since mid-March, when sports as a whole were put on hold.

But now baseball’s back, for better or potentially worse. I’m still not convinced it’s the right thing to do. I haven’t heard a good argument from anyone that playing baseball games right now across the country, even with no fans, is the morally right thing to be doing. It’s about the almighty dollar, still. We know that. But putting all of that aside, fans will have baseball to watch, and have had it for the last week or so in the form of exhibition games.

Things are about to get even weirder.

2. I wrote about a month ago, when baseball first announced it had come to an agreement to return, how skeptical I was about it all. I’m still about as skeptical as I was, but there’s no use in my mentally trying to stop a boulder from rolling down a hill. Baseball’s here, and I’m going to watch.

As weird as it’s going to be, I’m going to watch.

As bad as the Orioles are going to be, I’m going to watch.

Even though they are going to inexplicably pump fake crowd noise into the broadcasts, I’m going to watch.

Even when FOX Sports places fake digital fans in the stands during games they air, I’m going to watch.

None of it will be as good as baseball is if there wasn’t a global pandemic, but life in general isn’t as good when there wasn’t a global pandemic.

We’re just doing baseball in the middle of it now.

3. Much of my time spent in quarantine has been spent catching up with family and friends via Zoom calls. This isn’t uncommon, as I know many people have discovered Zoom or any other type of video conference app in order to connect with those who you can’t connect with in person.

Part of my Zoom diet has been taking place each Sunday in calls set up by my father, who has worked for the O’s since 1995. He’s been gathering a small group of his friends, some season ticket holders, as well as former players, coaches and umpires to talk baseball. We’ve had regular appearances from Don Buford, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian and journalist Roy Firestone. We’ve even been graced by the presence of folks like Rick Dempsey and Jim Palmer at one time or another during the last few months. Everyone gets together and spends a few hours telling stories and sharing laughs about the game and life during a pandemic. These calls have beautifully bridged a gap between a time when spring training was taking place in Florida and Arizona until now, when baseball is returning in the weirdest way possible.

The Zoom meetings may even continue, because it’s not like anyone is going to the games. We’ll all just be watching them from home. Truthfully, the one thing I’ve learned over these last few months is that baseball can endure such weird times. Baseball creates opportunity for weird even in times that are more normal. Baseball’s stories last decades, as I’ve heard about from many of these people who have been part of the game for that long. Baseball stories, especially ones told by the types of people on these weekly calls, can endure anything.

They are what keep me coming back to the game even during tough times for my own team.

4. Those tough times are sure to be front and center for the Orioles this season. Sixty games will not be a saving grace for many, but not having to endure 162 games of the Orioles’ predicted futility this season might be a small blessing in disguise. Not that it matters much these days, but the Birds have already had to push their Opening Day starter John Means back due to arm soreness (he was placed on the 10-day IL today). The one guy who showed something last season and was named an All-Star won’t get to be featured in their first game. Instead, Tommy Milone gets to be the answer to an obscure trivia question that will be asked in 15 years at a local pub trivia night.

I don’t particularly care how many games the Orioles win this season, which is a weird thing to even imagine. I’m not openly placing bets on Powerplay for them to secure the top pick in next year’s draft, but I’m not rooting against that either. I also imagine we’re going to see some really bad, but also really surprising performances in a 60-game sprint. I’ll be interested and delighted by whoever might want to stand out and entertain for two months.

5. I’m going to watch every minute of every Orioles game I get a chance to this season, because there’s only so much baseball that will be out there to be had. The weirdness of 2020 has robbed us of a marathon season and given us a sprint. Even if the Orioles go out and only win 15-20 games, I’ll embrace watching baseball because it’s what we have right now. I expect to have to regularly Google the names of players who are brought onto the roster from the taxi squad or the extended player pool, because that’s part of what this season is going to bring.

All the weirdness and awkwardness of a fan of a team trying to learn who the members of the team actually are. It’s part of a rebuild and part of a season that will be heavy on transactions and trips to the injured list that aren’t actually for injuries, but instead illness.

6. The completion of a full 60-game spring still seems like a pipedream to some. But it’s at least going to start, it would appear. It’s going to start in Boston, too, for the first time since 1966. That was a pretty good year in Orioles history, if my record books are to be believed.

But damn the record books for this season. I’m watching it for some entertainment and not expecting anything – good, bad or otherwise – to come of it.

That’s probably the only way I’ll get through it.

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2020 Orioles Predictions

With the Orioles’ season opener under a week away, it’s time to unveil my 2020 predictions, which of course I was hoping to release around mid-March. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in my – and everyone’s – plans, and here we are.

The MLB will have a 60-game season now, which should make for an extremely intriguing year, even for a Baltimore squad that appears unlikely to make any waves. However, given the shortened campaign, if the Birds get off to a hot start, you never know!

I’ll save the suspense, though – my predictions won’t see the O’s anywhere near the postseason. In this article I’ll predict the Opening Day starting lineup and rotation, the team MVP, CY Young, and Rookie of the Year, as well as its final record, with explanations for each. Without further ado, here’s how the 2020 shortened MLB season will look for Baltimore.

Opening Day Starting Lineup

  1. CF – Austin Hays
  2. 2B – Hanser Alberto
  3. LF – Anthony Santander
  4. DH – Renato Nunez
  5. 1B – Chris Davis
  6. SS – Jose Iglesias
  7. 3B – Rio Ruiz
  8. C – Pedro Severino
  9. RF – DJ Stewart

I don’t see this being too contentious, though the main differences could lie at catcher, where Chance Sisco will surely see a good deal of time, and at right field, where Dwight Smith Jr. could push Stewart. In the end, though, I believe Severino gets the nod to guide the rotation and Stewart gets the RF position due to his youth.

Opening Day Starting Rotation

  1. John Means
  2. Alex Cobb
  3. Asher Wojciechowski
  4. Wade LeBlanc
  5. Kohl Stewart

The first three names here are pretty surefire, though there is a lot of question around how they’ll perform. The Orioles will likely see a lot of change throughout the rotation, especially behind Means, as pitchers like Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, and even Bruce Zimmermann could get a crack on the mound.

Hunter Harvey pitching.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

Orioles Cy Young: Hunter Harvey

I know, usually this award goes to a starting pitcher, but in my opinion, the shortened season and weird offseason will make things difficult for guys such as Means. Though he would have been the favorite, Means may struggle at the beginning of the year. Harvey may, too, but I see him as a breakout star in the bullpen this year.

Craig Landfeld/GulfBird Sports

Orioles Rookie of the Year: Ryan Mountcastle

Mountcastle has been on the cusp of the majors for a while now, and it is all-but-guaranteed that he gets a chance to shine in Baltimore this year. His bat is incredible and MLB-ready, but it’s the glove that could hold him back. I expect him to play some outfield from the get-go but ultimately find a home at 1B or DH. Regardless, once an everyday player, Mountcastle may end up being the O’s best hitter – that’s enough to get him this award.

Austin Hays running bases.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

Orioles MVP: Austin Hays

In the leadoff and CF role, Hays will be a cornerstone of the Orioles team and hopefully its rebuild. He has a great blend of speed, fielding ability, contact and power that should make him a consistent player – something I expect to be a rare sight in Baltimore this year. I actually think Mountcastle could make a push for this honor but because Hays will be consistently solid from Opening Day, it’s his to lose.

Orioles Final Record: 18-42

Oof. I hope I’m happily surprised with a few more wins here and there, but the Orioles are not going to be good this season. They’ll be giving young players a chance and likely losing some toss-up games because of it, and they’ll be dramatically worse than other opponents like the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Nationals, and Braves. In the end, it’s a poor season in Baltimore, but at least we’ll get to watch some baseball.

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Paul’s Payoff Pitch Farewell

The Payoff Pitch logo.

Anthony Santander has finally joined the Orioles (it was revealed that he had tested positive for Covid19), but Dwight Smith Jr. is still nowhere to be found. Richie Martin suffered an injury requiring surgery and will be out for a few months. In the finale of The Payoff Pitch, Paul runs down those stories and more as we are now just over a week from our delayed MLB Opening Day.

Plus, a personal note…

Thanks for listening to The Payoff Pitch, and see you…somewhere else (listen!)…soon!

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The Payoff Pitch: Baseball is…Back?!

The Payoff Pitch logo.

Two weeks, two installments of The Payoff Pitch! It seems Major League Baseball and the Players Union got their heads out of their own posteriors long enough to reach an agreement on a 60 game season to be played in 66 days beginning July 23/24. And while excitement for the first live American team sports since March abounds, the future of the game of baseball, with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the horizon, is cloudier than ever.

I delve into the details of the new season, while also looking at the gloom-and-doom that will inevitably be the 2021/22 offseason. Plus, a look at some Hall of Famers that are, and some that never were. Why is Derek Jeter treated like Babe Ruth when he’s nothing more than Paul Molitor?

Just hit play and find out on The Payoff Pitch.

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Baseball’s Back…But At What Cost?

game at camden yards with no one in stands

It’s been a hell of a few months for all of us, not just as Orioles fans or even as baseball fans, but as humanity. The world has been turned upside down by a global pandemic, and the baseball world is no exception to that. You’ll quickly notice that there is more to all of this than meets the eye. It’s not about the game or the Orioles. It’s not about their rebuild, their draft, or their draft position next year. Baseball just went through something horrific. It was a long and arduous process that hurt a lot of people. It’s also important to continue reiterating that in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly half a million people worldwide, hurt feelings don’t really matter. None of this really matters. We’ve had more than 120,000 Americans die during a pandemic and Major League Baseball just spent months arguing with the players about how to best proceed playing the game.

And while it appears they have figured it out – setting a date and everything – we all know they don’t REALLY have it figured out.

If we don’t have a new way of life figured out as a society quite yet, I can’t be mad at baseball for not having itself figured out. I don’t even have myself figured out. I would normally be writing in this space just about every week, but haven’t in months. It felt trite. It felt pointless. I honestly didn’t think baseball was coming back this year, and I was perfectly okay with that. Now that it is (supposedly) coming back, I don’t know how to feel.

Excitement? I don’t really have that.

Anticipation? There isn’t much of that either.

Trepidation is what I’d call it to this point. It feels daunting that MLB is going to squeeze 60 games into 2020 in the midst of a pandemic and think that they’ve accomplished something. Baseball’s owners (and to a much smaller extent, the players) have done some damage here. Not just with their bickering over money, but also with their feeling of importance.

I get that baseball is important to a lot of people. It’s important to me, too. But in this environment, and in this new world we all find ourselves in, “important” takes on a new meaning.

When we all sit back and take off our sunglasses and get the smell of fresh-cut grass out of our noses, we realize that this return is about one thing – the almighty dollar. It isn’t about giving fans something to watch or rally around. It was never about that for MLB or the players, and was never going to be about that. It’s about money. How much the owners can save, how much the players can make, and how much you are ultimately willing to spend on your cable package or streaming service to view it. That’s all it’s about and all it ever was about. That’s frustrating and there’s a larger conversation to be had about our society when it comes to these things.

It’s not a conversation that needs to be had here, because it gets political and messy. But it’s real and heartbreaking all at once.

Baseball’s return is also going to give us a very bastardized version of the game. Among the new rules that will need to be enforced to have a season play out is adopting the recently-used minor league rule of starting an inning with a runner at second base once the game goes to extra innings. This is to prevent games from going too long in a condensed schedule. If we are going to those extremes, why wouldn’t we just have tie games?

We’re also going to apparently see a rule enforced against spitting. While I agree that it’s a rule that is necessary in the world right now, if we have to go to those extremes to play the game, is the game even worth it?

We’re also going to see different rules when it comes to roster size, scheduling and extreme social distancing. All of this to play a game and entertain while making money for folks who already have a lot of it.

Chris Davis looks swings and hits a pitch, but he has dollar signs and dollar bills on his jersey on top of the various Orioles logos.

Original photo credit: International Business Times

Speaking of those folks who already have a lot of money – it’s important to point out that owners just spent months arguing about the fact that they aren’t going to make as much money as they would under normal circumstances. There’s no risk for them. Not to their health, or their bottom line. It’s all about them not making as much money as they normally would. Sure, there are projections that they had in a pre-pandemic world that they won’t meet. But it’s not like they are losing money hand over fist in order to make baseball happen this year. And even if they were losing money, there is no rule – as an owner of a sports team or any other business – that states your company can’t lose money.

These owners have acted over the last few months as if it is their God-given right as businessmen who run baseball franchises to make money – and lots of it – every year. Not every business is a money-maker every year. That’s not how it works for the hardware store down the street from you or the bakery across town. None of them automatically work, especially in a pandemic where the world shuts down around you. It’s that smug attitude from owners that really set in stone what this whole argument was about over these last few months. It’s why blaming “both sides” or not backing the arguments of the players doesn’t work for me.

They had every right to fight for what they wanted, and baseball still ended up having its way by getting as few games as it possibly could. Baseball doesn’t care what you want out of all these, either. They aren’t even going to lift the years-long blackout restrictions on streaming that have been in place. If you live in Iowa, so sorry, but you won’t get to watch much baseball even in a 60-game sprint season.

MLB loves nothing more than to make sure more people can’t even watch its product. It’s this kind of ancient attitude toward the game that baseball needs to shed. They haven’t done it over the last few months, and it with Rob Manfred at the helm, it doesn’t appear that anything like that is on the horizon.

When baseball eventually does return – and I’m still just going to count myself as hopeful that it is indeed in a month – I’ll be happy about it. I’ll make dumb jokes on Twitter and enjoy watching the Orioles and other more talented teams play. But right now I’m not in any kind of a celebratory mood about baseball’s return. It doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t fit the moment. Between a global pandemic (which is a completely valid reason to cancel a season) and the battle we just witnessed between owners and players, nothing that has just happened should be celebrated.

Baseball’s the game I first fell in love with, and I’m sure I’ll fall in love all over again. But I don’t have to be happy about it in the current state of things. It doesn’t quite fit the moment.

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The Payoff Pitch: 2020 MLB Draft Recap

The Payoff Pitch logo.

We’re back! Hopefully MLB will follow shortly…why don’t they already have a plan in place? Well, let’s spend a few minutes talking about why Rob Manfred is the worst thing to happen to Major League Baseball in my lifetime. Maybe we’ll have a shortened season and can talk about some real baseball soon…or maybe not, because Rob sucks.

For now, let’s talk about the guys the Orioles drafted in the 2020 Amateur Draft.

See the ESR recaps of the picks here:

Round 1: Heston Kjerstad

Comp Round A: Jordan Westburg

Round 2: Hudson Haskin

Round 3: Anthony Servideo

Round 4: Coby Mayo

Round 5: Carter Baumler

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O’s Look to Get Armed in Undrafted Signing Period

While the fact that the 2020 MLB Draft was a shortened version of normal certainly isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team such as the Orioles, it does afford them a unique opportunity in the undrafted free agent signing portion of the offseason. With a larger pool of players to snag, GM Mike Elias may be able to bring in prospects that might otherwise have been drafted by other clubs. Of course, these prospects will have to want to come to Baltimore and the Orioles will have to be able to afford them, but if ends meet, the Birds could have a nice crop of players in this area.

Last week, leading up to the draft, I wrote that the Orioles may want to draft under-slot in order to attract highly-touted high school prospects later. That proved to be the route Elias took, with the team selecting two prep prospects in the later rounds after passing on the likes of Austin Martin and Asa Lacy early. There’s certainly some risk involved in doing that, as high schoolers are harder to project, but I like the decision.

At the same time, I expect the risk-taking to continue with undrafted signees. When plucking players from the college ranks, however, the far greater gambles are made on pitchers; that reality is reflected in the Orioles’ clear preference of position players early in the most recent two drafts. With that being said, they should be willing to take risks on the best arms left after last week.

There always seems to be more success with late-round pitchers than one might expect, and the predictability based on each pitcher’s respective draft position is low. At the same time, the Orioles should feel good about the new regime’s ability to grow arms through analytics. For some – such as Michael Baumann and Cody Sedlock – in the minor league system, Baltimore’s revamped approach on the mound led to immediate improvement. Knowing that, they may have a decent shot at finding gems – or at least developing them – in the undrafted pool.

In fact, the Orioles have already shown confidence in their ability to do this, as two of their first three undrafted signees (as I’m writing this) are right-handed pitchers. That’s already more than the Birds drafted last week. Without a doubt, the number of players Baltimore brings in after this year’s draft will dwarf their selections, but the point remains: the Orioles opened the undrafted period by prioritizing pitching.

You know what’s even more exciting about this? Baltimore has agreed to pay stipends to their minor leaguers, which many other teams have not committed to. This, paired with the potential to quickly rise up the ranks of a rebuilding system, makes the organization an intriguing one for undrafted prospects.

If handled well, Elias and the Orioles will take advantage of that by nabbing the best remaining arms.

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Orioles Draft HS RHP Carter Baumler in Round 5

Carter Baumler

After drafting four college bats with their first four picks in the truncated 2020 MLB Draft, the Orioles went high school with their final two. It was Florida (Stoneman Douglas HS) 3B Coby Mayo in Round 4, and Iowa RHP Carter Baumler in Round 5. Baumier was the only pitcher the Birds took this year.

Previous Picks

Round 1: Heston Kjerstad

Comp Round A: Jordan Westburg

Round 2: Hudson Haskin

Round 3: Anthony Servideo

Round 4: Coby Mayo

Here’s MLB pipeline on the hurler:

Baumler boosted his stock late in the showcase cycle, pitching well at the Area Code Games in August and turning in an impressive bullpen workout at the World Wood Bat Association World Championship in September. Iowa’s best high school pitching prospect since Mitch Keller, he could be the state’s earliest Draft pick since the Pirates made Keller a second-rounder in 2014. But he only got one disappointing outing in this spring before the coronavirus shutdown, making it unlikely a team will spend enough to lure him away from his Texas Christian commitment.

Baumler has a strong, athletic frame that currently produces 90-94 mph fastballs with riding life and he projects to add more velocity in the future. His curveball lacked consistency early in the summer but improved afterward, showing good depth and leading some evaluators to grade his bender as a future plus offering. He hasn’t used his changeup much but demonstrates some feel for the pitch.

Scouts love Baumler’s clean delivery and arm action, which should allow him to throw strikes and stay healthy. He’s a quality athlete who has flashed some power and speed while playing a variety of positions, including catcher. Though he drew some college football interest after kicking and punting for Dowling Catholic’s (Des Moines) 4-A state championship football team in 2018, he committed to play baseball only at TCU.

That wraps up the shortened 2020 MLB Draft. Here’s to the owners and players coming to an agreement to play some actual baseball here very soon. The Orioles are currently listed with 1000-1 odds to win the World Series at places like Vegas Palms Casino, should it be played this year, but they hope that players like Baumler and the others they’ve drafted here will improve those odds greatly in the coming decade.

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Orioles Draft Florida HS 3B Coby Mayo in Round 4

The first High Schooler of the class! Still no pitcher. MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo (no relation) puts a player comp on Coby Mayo to the Braves’ Austin Riley. He’s got a tremendous throwing arm and promising bat.

Previous Picks

Round 1: Heston Kjerstad

Comp Round A: Jordan Westburg

Round 2: Hudson Haskin

Round 3: Anthony Servideo

Here’s what MLB Pipeline has to say about him:

Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has produced some serious talent over the years, starting with Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and continuing with A’s left-hander Jesus Luzardo and Rockies third-base prospect Colton Welker. Mayo also plays the hot corner, with the kind of power potential that many teams covet.

There are no questions about Mayo’s raw power from the right side of the plate. He can flat-out crush the ball, using his strong 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage. The concerns crop up regarding whether he’ll hit enough to get to that power on a consistent basis. There’s swing and miss to his game and while he’ll show the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field in batting practice, he can get very pull-happy in games.

Not everyone is convinced Mayo can stick at third as well. While he does have a well above-average arm, his feet and hands are just OK, which might mean a move to first base or maybe to left field. His strong arm, power and physicality might remind some of Austin Riley and the team that tries to sign him away from his commitment to Florida will believe that’s who he can become.

Perhaps Mayo is an overslot, as he has a commitment to play with the Florida Gators. The O’s have just one pick remaining, and if they don’t select a pitcher, they will heavily rely on undrafted free agents to fill that void.

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Orioles Draft Anthony Servideo SS Ole Miss

With the 74th overall pick, the Orioles picked Ole Miss shortstop Anthony Servideo. That’s the fourth college bat in four picks for the O’s this draft.

Previous picks:

Round 1: Heston Kjerstad

Comp Round A: Jordan Westburg

Round 2: Hudson Haskin

Here’s what MLB Pipeline had to say about Servideo:

Servideo played sparingly as a Mississippi freshman in 2018, then spent most of 2019 shuttling between right field and center field for the Rebels before posting the worst batting line (.149/.228/.277) in the Cape Cod League. He looked like a different player this spring, starting on Opening Day by singling, doubling and walking against Louisville left-hander Reid Detmers, a lock top-10-overall pick. He emerged as one of college baseball’s better shortstops, though scouts can only wonder how his .390/.575/.695 line would have held up in Southeastern Conference play.

Servideo plays a table-setting role, working counts to draw walks (his 24 in 17 games ranked second in NCAA Division I) and aggressively using his plus speed to create havoc once he reaches base. To remain at the top of the order at the next level, he’ll need to cut down his left-handed swing a bit and make more consistent contact. He’s not big and won’t be a slugger, but he displayed more pop as a junior, homering five times after going deep just four times in 100 previous contests.

While there still are mixed opinions on how much impact Servideo will have at the plate, there are no questions about his ability to play shortstop. His quickness and solid arm make him a better defender than Grae Kessinger, his predecessor as Mississippi’s shortstop and the Astros’ second-round pick last June. If he doesn’t hit enough to be a regular, he’d be capable of playing anywhere in the infield and outfield as a utility man.

It’s becoming quite clear that Mike Elias & Sig Mejdal are all-in on the college bats this year.

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Orioles Draft Tulane OF Hudson Haskin

Hudson Haskin

Arms galore were available at Pick 39. Instead, the Orioles yet again zagged, nabbing college outfielder Hudson Haskin. Haskin has a wonky swing, but the tools are there to be a solid pro.

Here’s what MLB Pipeline has to say about him:

Avon (Conn.) Old Farms School produced an athletic center fielder in 2008 who went on to become a first-round pick after three years in college and an eventual star with the Astros — George Springer. A decade later, the Beavers spawned another toolsy center fielder who should go early in the 2020 Draft as a sophomore-eligible. A 39th-round pick by the Athletics in 2018, Haskin batted .372/.459/.647 as a Tulane freshman and helped his cause by performing well with wood bats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League during the summer.

Though Haskin’s right-handed swing can get long at times, he still manages to barrel the ball consistently. His stroke is quick and has a nice loft, and once he fills out his lean 6-foot-2 frame he could produce 20 or more homers annually. He manages the strike zone well, though his ability to make contact with ease does cut into his walks.

Haskin’s speed grades as at least plus. Though he broke Springer’s stolen base record at Avon Old Farms, he hasn’t been especially aggressive on the bases in college. He tracks balls well in center field, showing good instincts and an average arm.

The Orioles have yet to select a High School player, meaning that the coveted ‘overslot’ guy may still be out there and if someone like Jared Kelley or Blaze Jordan continues to fall, look for them in the later rounds.

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Orioles Draft Mississippi State SS Jordan Westburg

Jordan Westburg throws from the infield.

After surprising many and taking Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad with the second pick, the Orioles had another pick on night one of the draft, #30 overall, the first of the competitive balance picks between rounds one and two (it was tonight because the Houston Astros were stripped of their first round pick).

Jordan Westburg throws from the infield.

With this one, they went with Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg.

Here’s what MLB Pipeline has to say about him:

Though neither was a heralded prospect or drafted out of high school in 2017, Mississippi State’s Westburg and Justin Foscue have developed into college baseball’s best double-play combination. Foscue has been a more consistent hitter but Westburg has a higher ceiling and more defensive value. He tied a College World Series record with seven RBI in one game in 2018 and helped the Bulldogs return to Omaha last season.

Westburg has a compact right-handed swing and possesses the bat speed and strength to provide 20 or more homers on an annual basis. He lacks consistency at the plate because he has a very aggressive, pull-happy approach and sometimes struggles with pitch recognition and managing the strike zone. After he failed to make the U.S. collegiate national team last summer, he settled down nicely in the Cape Cod League and was one of the circuit’s more productive hitters.

Westburg has solid speed and arm strength to match, giving him a chance to stick at shortstop at the next level. He’s big for the position at 6-foot-3 and if he adds more strength to his frame, he could slow down and necessitate a move to third base. With his power potential, he still could profile offensively at the hot corner.

This wasn’t the over-slot high schooler many expected here, but the Orioles are on the clock again at #39 overall (second pick of the round) when Round 2 kicks off Thursday at 5 PM.

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Orioles Draft Heston Kjerstad, RF Arkansas

The Orioles threw us a curveball with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, going with Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad. The guys on the ESPN broadcast were calling him the second-best power bat in the draft, after Spencer Torkelson, who went first overall to Detroit.

His coach at Arkansas called him “the best left-handed hitter in the country.” He was number 10 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. Here’s what they wrote about him, pre-draft:

“A 36th-round pick by the Mariners as a Texas high schooler in 2017, Kjerstad teamed with fellow top prospect Casey Martin to lead Arkansas to back-to-back College World Series appearances in their first two years of college. His 14 homers in 2018 broke the school freshman record of 13 set by eventual first-rounder Zack Cox in 2009, and Kjerstad encored with 17 as a sophomore. He offers the best left-handed power in the 2020 college class and only potential No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson has more pop among collegians.

Kjerstad’s strength and bat speed give him well above-average raw power to all fields. He has a complicated swing that features a big hand circle in his load, so he has to be precise with his timing to make it work — but he has done so in college and was the top performer in the U.S. collegiate team’s lineup last summer. He’s an aggressive hitter who always will accumulate strikeouts as a tradeoff for his pop.

Though Kjerstad records below-average running times out of the batter’s box, he displays average speed once he gets going. He’s not a threat on the bases but plays a capable right field. His huge power and solid arm strength fit the profile for the position.”

With this pick, expect the Orioles to aim for an over-slot high school prospect at picks 30 and/or 39. For more on that, read this piece from ESR’s Aidan Griesser.

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Orioles 2020 Draft Primer

Austin Martin of Vanderbilt swings.

MLB is about to embark on the shortest draft in baseball history. In a draft with only five rounds, there will be an increased emphasis on ‘hitting’ on picks to maximize value. While this is always the case, teams with struggling farm systems won’t have the opportunity to replenish the talent pipeline as extensively. The Orioles have a prospect system that is on the rise and is currently Top 15, if not Top 10. The hitch this year will be the undrafted free agents. Normally, with 40 rounds, very few if any undrafted players ever make the major leagues. The rule for this draft is an unlimited number of players can be signed after the draft for a maximum of $20,000. This evens the playing field a bit for the Orioles, as they can’t be outbid and almost assuredly offer a faster path to the big leagues.

Austin Martin of Vanderbilt swings.

However, as it pertains to the draft itself, I have outlined who could be available for the Orioles’ first three picks, as they will be guaranteed at least three Top 40 draft prospects.

Keep in mind, the Orioles have the largest draft pool this year at $13,894,300, which should give them a decent amount of financial flexibility if and when they need it.

Round 1, Pick 2 (2nd Pick Overall)

The consensus in the industry is that Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson will be the first selection of this year’s draft. That leaves the Orioles with a bevy of options at pick number two. Mike Elias seems to be evaluating a number of options at 1:2 and the most obvious of those is Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin.

Martin has the best ‘hit’ tool in the class. MLB Pipeline gives Martin a 65 grade (20-80 scouting scale) for his hitting skills, citing his quick swing and efficient bat path. Martin also provides versatility in the field. He’s played the infield the majority of his collegiate career, but many scouts aren’t sure if he’ll end up there. It’s notable to mention, in 2020, albeit a shortened season, Martin played 75% of his games in the outfield. He has enough athleticism to stick in the outfield, and while the Orioles seemingly don’t need any more of those in their system, taking the best player available always is the most prudent strategy.

Other options at the pick include: Asa Lacy, P, Texas A&M, Nick Gonzales, INF, New Mexico St., and Zac Veen, OF, Spruce Creek High School (Florida).

There have been rumors that the Orioles are eyeing up a potential under-slot deal with Gonzales, which would really only make sense if they’re absolutely sure a premium High School talent will fall in the draft. Many scouts feel Gonzales has a special bat, but his numbers could also be inflated as New Mexico State is basically the Coors Field of college baseball. Gonzales produced a .399/.502/.747 slashline in three college seasons, and before this year was shortened due to COVID-19, Gonzales had 12 home runs in 16 games with a 1.765 OPS. He has had to face questions about his true ability for years, but went out and proved it in the Cape Cod League. ‘The Cape’ is a wood bat league and gives scouts a better idea of how a particular prospect may fare in pro ball. He won the Cape Cod League MVP, silencing much of the speculation that he was aided mostly by an aluminum bat and hitter-friendly ballpark.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Orioles go the route of Zac Veen. He is a younger guy, but to me, a guy with perhaps the most upside of anyone in the draft. I see Cody Bellinger in his swing, as they both use their length to generate power. Veen has strength yet to add and already topping out with a 98 mph (Baseball Factory), he projects nicely to be a really consistent bat at worst. As mentioned before, the Orioles don’t necessarily have a need for more outfield prospects, but if they feel Veen is the best player available, then you take him every time.

The only other person on this list I see worth mentioning as a possibility is Texas A&M southpaw Asa Lacy. Lacy is considered by most to be the best pitcher of the class. He has the frame and the repertoire to be a future all-star. Lacy features two plus breaking balls and a fastball that sits 92-97. I haven’t seen Lacy mocked to the Orioles lately and don’t expect him to be here, but nothing wrong with adding another arm to the DL Halls and Grayson Rodriguezes of the world.

Prediction: Austin Martin

Competitive Balance Round A, Pick 1 (30th Pick Overall)

This pick is very much up in the air. We could see High Schoolers fall, or with a draft so rich with college pitching, the Orioles could simply just see the best player available being the next best college pitcher.

There are many options here, but I’ll zero in on a couple high schoolers and a couple college players. Nick Bitsko, P, Central Bucks East High School and Jared Kelley, P, Refugio High School are two guys I could see slipping somewhat in the draft. They’re currently ranked in MLB Pipeline’s Top 15, but could see a fall if teams choose to go the safer college route.

Other guys I think who realistically could end up at 30 and the Orioles would have interest in would be: Tanner Burns, P, Auburn, Chris McMahon, P, Miami, and Casey Martin, SS, ArkansasBurns may be one of the more sure things in the class. Some speculate that his stuff could already play at the big league level, and for that, could advance through the minors quickly. McMahon could be the big hit or miss of the group. His fastball sits in the mid to upper 90’s and his changeup provides an effective complementary option. However, inconsistencies on the mound may plague his chances of ultimately becoming an upper echelon pro.

Martin perhaps could’ve been a Top 5 pick this year. If scouts hold a recency bias on Martin, he won’t be among the Top 30 picks. Martin struck out 31% of the time in 71 plate appearances to start 2020 and his slugging percentage was down nearly 100 points from his collegiate career numbers. Martin is an interesting case, because he has tools that could play right away (including a 75 grade speed), but putting it all together is the real question. Teams may shy away from him if they see a player who they consider to be more of a sure thing.

Prediction: Nick Bitsko

Round 2, Pick 2 (39th Pick Overall)

There have already been a few names connected to the Orioles at 30 and 39, namely High Schoolers Dax Fulton and Blaze Jordan.

Dax Fulton underwent Tommy John surgery last fall, but before then flashed on the high school circuit. Fulton’s 6’6 frame and lower end velocity perhaps make him a bullpen candidate in pro ball. Blaze Jordan burst on the scene at 15 years old as an internet phenom. While he was dubbed, ‘The Next Bryce Harper,’ back then, now it probably is not the case. Jordan offers no defensive value and will have to become a full time DH to get consistent at bats. So yes, at his ceiling, he could be David Ortiz, but you’re hoping for that on a wing and a prayer. Teams may be salivating at that power potential though, as Jordan is still only 17 and when he connects, the ball is going 500 feet. He still has a lot of growing to do, both physically and technically (refining his baseball acumen), but if you pick Blaze Jordan in this draft, you could end up with a literal home run *ba-dum chhh.*

There are several more options at 39 and it really depends on how the board falls and if the Orioles have enough financial flexibility to go overslot on a high schooler who fell. Keep an eye out for Jordan Walker or Carson Montgomery on that front.

Prediction: Blaze Jordan

When we look back on the 2020 MLB Draft, we may be pretty astounded at how much talent Mike Elias and Brad Ciolek were able to collect with so little selections. The Trey Mancinis (8th Round) and Toby Welks (21st Round) of the world won’t come from this draft, but that just means Orioles fans can really narrow in on the six selections to be made. I’m highly anticipating this year’s draft and hope some of the Top 20 talents fall to 30 and 39…is it wrong to be more excited about picks 30 and 39 over pick 2? No? Just me?

Regardless, I’m excited to look back on this draft five years from now to see how each player ended up. The faster the Orioles build a successful talent pipeline, the faster we will see a winner again in Charm City.

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Should O’s Save Money Early for High School Prospects Later?

men sitting at draft tables in large open room decorated with sports stuff

While MLB seems to be the league having the most trouble getting off its feet amidst the pandemic, they do at least have a draft coming up that will kick off on June 10th. For a rebuilding team like the Orioles, this is a massive opportunity to inject young talent into the system, with the hopes that some of those players will become critical members of the eventual turnaround.

Last year, GM Mike Elias secured the incredible catching prospect Adley Rutschman with the first overall selection. This year, he’ll look to follow that pick up with another strong talent at number two. While many assume that 1B Spencer Torkelson will go first overall and therefore predict the Orioles will take INF Austin Martin of Vanderbilt, I think things may go a different route this week.

With the uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 situation and the lack of scouting MLB teams have done, observers expect that many high school players will fall in the draft, leading them to sign on with their respective colleges. Typically, this already requires GMs to shell out larger signing bonuses to secure the services of high school prospects, but this year, those offers will be even more expensive. As a result, the better prep players will likely take massive falls.

To that point, with the Orioles also selecting at picks 30 and 39, some of the most highly touted prospects at the high school level may still be available. This could leave Elias wondering whether it’s worth drafting under-slot – meaning picking a player who will require a less expensive bonus – in order to save up to spend more on later picks. There were rumors that the O’s may have done just that heading into the 2019 draft, but Rutschman was simply too strong a prospect to pass on.

This year, however, I believe such a strategy makes sense.

If you consider the tools that Vanderbilt’s Martin has, it’s clear that he’s a very strong hitter with decent speed and a good glove. If you look slightly further down in top prospect lists, however, New Mexico State’s Nick Gonzales is quite similar. He batted over .350 in the Cape Cod League and is rated very highly in that regard, though he may be limited to second base. Still, the Orioles have had success with offensive-minded second basemen before, which could make Gonzales appealing.

In drafting Gonzales, Elias would save valuable cash to secure high school players later on, and I think it’s worth diving into who those guys could be.

First, an extremely intriguing name is SS Ed Howard, an Oklahoma recruit. With a well-rounded skillset and tremendous fielding skills, Howard could be a surefire prospect at short, but of course, his high signing bonus will likely make him fall a bit. MLB Pipeline has him rated as the 15th best prospect in the draft, but if things go Baltimore’s way, many college names could be taken ahead of him.

If Baltimore were to select a college arm or bat at pick-30 and wait for their third selection to go the high school route, two other names are quite intriguing to me.

Third baseman Jordan Walker is one, as he stands 6’5” and is “arguably the best Duke baseball recruit ever,” according to MLB.com. He has decent speed and a strong arm, but his power is his most impressive tool thus far. If the Orioles secured him, he’d be an outstanding young addition to the farm. Next, 17-year old Carter Montgomery is an exciting RHP to consider. Signed to Florida State, Montgomery has an impressive blend of pitches but flaunts a fastball that easily touches 95 mph with regularity. Pulling him away from Tallahassee would be a coup, especially given the circumstances of this year’s draft.

Many teams will shy away from high school prospects in this year’s draft, but I don’t think the Orioles should. To rebuild well you have to make aggressive decisions, and Elias strikes me as the type to do just that. When other GMs zig, electing to take college players, Elias can zag and make the decision to scoop up the best high school players.

There may be more risk involved, but the payoff could be massive.

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COVID-19 Crisis and MLB: An Opportunity Amidst Tragedy?

sunset view of oriole park at camden yards

Disclaimer: Just as I did when writing about this topic on Russell Street Report, I need to state that sports are absolutely secondary/tertiary/etc. in the grand scheme of things, and that’s especially true at the moment. Please don’t berate me with cries of “THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT?!” I get it. This is a tough time for all of us. But these are sports blogs, so sports blogging I shall do.

As the world waits for announcements on the plans that all sporting leagues have in place, the one that may have the most important decision is baseball. Of course, as the primary sport of the summer, baseball’s season has been jeopardized by the COVID-19 pandemic, at the least halting its start. Moving forward, it’s unclear if the MLB will play the season, though it seems they are likely to do so (thank goodness). With that in mind, there’s a few rumors swirling about how that could go down.

First, there is speculation that the season could get underway in May, with all teams playing games in Arizona. This could be an interesting solution, though it would seem almost identical to Spring Training. Similarly, it appears possible that the MLB could move its league to Japan for the time being, with games going on during the daytime there. Again, this would be a weird situation for fans, but I think we can all agree it’d be worth it if it meant baseball was back.

Either way, the MLB must do what’s best for the players before the sport. Still, when it comes to the future of baseball, I think the pandemic actually presents some intriguing opportunities for Commissioner Manfred.

With the massive issue baseball faces regarding the speed of play and the length of the season, I believe there is an interesting avenue presented by the crisis. Needless to say, there is little possibility for the MLB to play out a full 162-game season, which is unfortunate. At the same time, much of the skepticism surrounding the idea of shortening the season in other years has been brought forth by traditionalists who don’t want to see the game change. This year, with Manfred’s hand being forced, there could be a precedent of a shortened season that might just work well. In that case, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the league move forward with a more spaced-out season that has fewer games. As the past proposal has laid out, this would heighten the importance of each game and might make it more appealing to new audiences who dislike the slog of the summer.

Second, as the league continues to look into gathering a new crop of fans, I think its potential return in any capacity could spark interest in younger audiences.

Let’s break it down…

If you’re a league hoping to attract a different demographic that’s failed to tune in with any consistency, what better way to bring them into the fold than to restart the season before other leagues are up-and-running? Essentially, baseball could become the only sport with a live season, and that could work wonders as far as youth engagement.

The COVID-19 crisis has swept the world and has caused much larger issues than just the sporting world. Still, despite all it’s done to throw off society, it could present baseball with an opportunity to adjust and return to prevalence.

I still firmly believe that this is America’s pastime, but I also believe I’m one of the few members of my age range that holds that stance. Soon, it’s possible that could change.

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O’s Pitcher Suggests to MLB, “Let’s Play it Safe!”

Alex Cobb pitching

On March 12, the Orioles had literally to turn around while already on the bus to go to Fort Myers for a spring training game, and go back to the Ed Smith Stadium complex. That was the moment Major League Baseball announced the season would be delayed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The Orioles were planning to stay in Sarasota, but in a matter of hours that changed too and they were to be sent home. Minor league players fared no better, and this is something that could disrupt indiana sports betting online too, since the Hoosiers have no Major League teams. But the situation is serious, as State Health Commissioner Kris Box told the press in Indianapolis on Friday: there are probably tens of thousands of people infected with Covid-19 in Indiana, even though limited available tests have only confirmed 12 such cases.

On the same day, Friday 13,  the declaration of the state of emergency in Baltimore County followed suit. No wonder then that the Orioles too suggested to the MLB to cancel the whole season to be safe. “We just think that given the risk there is really no reason why we should have to go out there and play 162 games this year—we just care about people’s safety is all,”  pitcher Alex Cobb told the press. “Why play against the Yankees and the Red Sox game after game with this horrible infectious disease out there. It might seem safe to just take a month off, but it could come roaring back in the middle of July when we are already 40 games under .500, not that that matters at all. We’re just thinking about the fans and their health, nothing else.” 

Just a day before, Orioles executive vice president and general manager, Mike Elias, had told a conference call in Sarasota that they were “very intent on keeping everyone here until told otherwise.” The plan in that moment was to operate on a day-to-day basis, do a full cleaning of the major league and minor league complexes on Friday, and then have players returning to camp. That was the team’s preference. But it all changed in a matter of hours, as MLB decided that all major and minor league players could go home, if they wished.

On Sunday MLB issued guidelines on the situation, after Commissioner Rob Manfred, Players Association executive director Tony Clark and key aides met in Arizona on Friday and Saturday. There was no mention of completely cancelling the season yet, but it is clear by now that the delay will probably last until May, or longer. Clubs have been told to cease any organized informal workouts, further closing down camp activity. MLB has made it clear that they want to comply with governmental requests for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the meanwhile, the Yankees confirmed that a minor-league player tested positive for Covid-19 and was quarantined Friday morning after experiencing a fever.

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Once Upon a Time…When “Orioles” Meant Football Too

Kevin Gausman of the Orioles throws a football.

In the beginning was baseball. Did you know that the first American League of Professional Football in the United States was created by… the owners of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs? Yes, the National League. That was a long, long time ago. In 1894, to be precise. Eons before anyone could even dream that there would be anything like online football betting some day, there was already a clear business case for the move: baseball stadiums were empty during the winter, so additional activities were needed. There was also a promotional reason, and that was to keep public attention somewhat on baseball even during the off-season.

This is wise strategy. Now, Baltimoreans were even wiser. Guess what? They did it first. The F.C. Baltimore Orioles was founded even earlier, in 1883. It was short-lived, just one season. The baseball club, the first, 19th-century Baltimore Orioles, was born in 1882 and lived through 1899. A short but very successful life, starting from the flamboyant three consecutive first places in the League, in 1894, 1895 and 1896. And the victories in the “Temple Cup” national championship series in 1896 and 1897.

Then something went awry. The National League reduced its number of teams and franchises from 12 to 8, concentrating on the northeastern United Stated. The Baltimore Orioles were contracted out of the League after the 1899 season. After reorganizing, they became a prominent member of the Western League, which in turn evolved into the American League.

But what about the Orioles football club?

They were actually very successful. There were remarkable crowds that gathered to attend their matches, as many as 8,000 people. This stirred some jealousy in the owners of other clubs. They started to campaign against Baltimore on allegations that the Orioles were illegally employing British players. This in turn caused the U.S. immigration services to investigate the situation. But this was only part of the story.

Before the professional football League was created, the sports American Football Association had been in operations since 1884, in an effort to standardize rules and procedures. They did not appreciate at all that a new, professional league had been created and started to encroach on their territory. The stage was set for a frontal clash, and happen it did: the AFA banned players of the ALPF from playing in their tournaments. As a result, the season that had been planned for 1885 collapsed and the American League of Professional Football fell apart.

Actually, what really tanked the Baltimore football adventure was business. Baseball was much more successful and lucrative. The average public for National League games at that time was in the range of 6000, while the only season organized by the American League of Professional Football in 1984 had a weak turnover of 500 spectators on average. A total of 23 games with six teams were played, and the club owners tried to make them more attractive with very low ticket prices (about 25 cents), but to no avail.

This is why the Baltimore Orioles in the end dropped the football.

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