With Memorial Day fast approaching, Matt Blood should be spending his days watching future Orioles at Norfolk or Bowie. He should be getting reports on prospects at Frederick or Delmarva. He should be hearing the crack of a bat or the pop of a fastball hitting a mitt.
Instead, the Orioles’ new director of player development sits at home and meets with players and coaches via Zoom, trying to help them navigate a season unlike any other.
As Major League Baseball works to salvage some semblance of a 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic — the latest model being considered features an 82-game season beginning around July 4 — Blood is working to keep Oriole prospects engaged in a year when there might not be a minor league season at all.
“Uncertainty in general is a difficult emotion to deal with,” said Blood, who joined the Orioles’ organization last fall after holding a similar position with the Texas Rangers. “I think anyone who’s not quite sure what the future holds and can’t plan for what to do is going to be uneasy.”
“That’s something … that we’re working with everyone on, the coaches as well,” he added. “But it’s not really going to be solved until we’re able to get back together and start playing again.”
With the team’s spring training and minor league complexes in Sarasota, Florida shuttered since mid-March, players have been scattered and left to their own resources to stay in shape until any semblance of team activity resumes. Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez played long-toss across a lake in a video that went viral, and he told Baseball America that he has a full bullpen to work with on the family’s East Texas property.
Not everyone has a bullpen or batting cage in their backyard, but Blood said, “Just about all of them are doing something creative … to stay sharp.”
Each player has an individual workout program, and players and coaches occasionally exchange video to review mechanics and address concerns. They also review fundamentals and in-game strategy via virtual meetings, and players can also take part in Zoom calls that focus on nutrition and mental skills. There is even an online book club.
“I’m on like four Zoom calls a day,” Blood said. “Our players are on one or two, depending on how involved they want to be…. We’re doing a lot to try to keep the players engaged and to keep track of them.”
Of course, none of this was supposed to be this way, and there is hope that by mid-June, a second spring training can begin at the Twin Lakes minor league complex in Sarasota. No one knows what that might look like but, according to published reports, it would include daily temperature checks, social distancing in the clubhouse and limited numbers at workouts staggered throughout the day.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said Major League Baseball will be welcome to use facilities in his state, but Blood said the Orioles’ organization is waiting on direction from MLB before they reopen their Sarasota complex.
“There are not plans in place, but there are hopes in place,” he said. “I think we’re still waiting for the major league side to get sorted out. … Once they get that figured out, then we’ll start getting some directives as to what we’re allowed to do.”
Should there be a major league season, the roster construction is likely to be different than other years. One plan being considered includes a 30-man roster and 20-man taxi squad.
If, as expected, there is no minor league season, could those players return to Sarasota later in the summer for some sort of instructional league, extended spring games or simulated play once the major league team breaks camp and heads north? Blood wouldn’t speculate, acknowledging that the only certainty is uncertainty.
“Whether it’s 50 players or 200 players, we’ll make the best of it with the group that we have,” he said.