Pandemic concerns not going away for baseball; McDonald on draft picks Westburg, Servideo -
Rich Dubroff

Pandemic concerns not going away for baseball; McDonald on draft picks Westburg, Servideo

Baseball had its share of issues in spring training. For most of it, electronic sign-stealing by the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox dominated the talk. There was also some discussion about the talks with minor league baseball about what it would look like come 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic was news in the world at large, but not really in the baseball world until March.

After Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test was announced on March 11, it was inevitable that the rest of professional and amateur sports would shut down.Baseball announced its pause the next day.

Since then, we’ve closely followed developments in other sports’ attempts to resume play and the negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Players Association about how and when to finally begin the 2020 season.

With the machinations changing, seemingly by the minute, it’s clear not only that the pandemic isn’t over, but the conditions surrounding it change quickly.

After it was clear that there wouldn’t be a speedy end to the pandemic, the first talk was about baseball creating a quarantine in Arizona, then later Florida and perhaps Texas, having all 30 teams play there because those states hadn’t been hit hard by the virus.

Now, with Arizona, Florida and Texas hit hard, it might be safer for the teams from the Northeast and Midwest to host games—for now.

As quickly as things change with the virus, who knows where it will be safe to play late next month?

The sports world has been upset by positive tests for coronavirus in recent days. As a result, the Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros closed their Florida facilities last week, and the rest of MLB closed theirs not only in Florida, but Arizona, too.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins will have to find new places to train once an agreement between MLB and the Players Association is reached, or terms of the schedule set down by commissioner Rob Manfred.

Another team, the Blue Jays has a complication because Canada is still requiring people entering the country to quarantine for 14 days. The team is working with the Canadian government to allow the Blue Jays to host training camp and games in Toronto.

The Blue Jays would have played in Dunedin, where they host Grapefruit League games. If neither Dunedin nor Toronto is feasible, they could play in Buffalo, where their Triple-A team plays.

Clemson and the University of Texas football teams each have a large number of positive tests. The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning has closed its facility, and golfer Nick Watney tested positive at a tournament in South Carolina.

Things change quickly, and conditions are similar to March, but the reaction is more nuanced.

The NBA is attempting to create its own bubble in Orlando, an incredibly intricate arrangement that could require teams and their personnel to stay on the Walt Disney campus for nearly three months if they play into the Finals.

Even though MLB and the Players Association had deservedly received scorn for their negotiating tactics, the league quickly abandoned its bubble approach once players objected to being quarantined for several months.

If they can play games at home parks and — in the case of the Rays, Blue Jays and Marlins at minor league ballparks — it’s a much better solution than creating a bubble.

If the parties reach an agreement on economic terms, they hope that the nation’s health will permit play in 2020. After the bickering over economics, the sides still must reach agreement on a health protocol, something that could be much more important than quarreling over the length of the shortened season.

More McDonald on the draft: Last week, Orioles broadcaster Ben McDonald spoke about the team’s strategy in the draft and his opinion on selecting Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad over Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin.

McDonald, who calls SEC games for the SEC Network and ESPN, has also seen two other Orioles draft picks extensively — Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg and Mississippi shortstop Anthony Servideo.

These questions have been edited for length.

Question: What’s your opinion of Westburg?

McDonald: “I talked to the assistant coach at Mississippi State, Jake Gautreau, after the Orioles took him just to back up what I saw in 2 ½ years, and I talked to Jake Mangum, who played with Westburg for a couple of years.

“Both of them told me that every time he steps on a baseball field, he is the most athletic, strongest guy on the field, and that’s a mouthful when you talk about some of the players Mississippi State has had the last couple of years, and some of the players they’ve played against.

“That’s what I saw from him, a big physical kid, 6-foot-3, 205. In three or four years, he’ll be 225. The ball is explosive off the bat, there’s no doubt about that.

“There’s some swing-and-miss there. If there ever was a guy that we talk about with potential and upside, he’s your guy. If he ever figures it out, and from a defensive standpoint, he made a few errors, the arm strength, the footwork is good enough to really stick.

“Austin Martin, to me, and I may be wrong, is not going to stick on the left side of the infield at the big league level, but this kid, Westburg, has a real shot to play shortstop or play third base at the big league level. If it all comes together for him, with some reps and some work, this could be a name that you could be talking about for a long time.”

Q: Servideo had a rough summer last year, using a wood bat in the Cape Cod League. Does that concern you?

A: “If that’s the first time he put a wood bat in his hand, it would worry me a little bit. Now, what I like about Servideo is he’s really a utility-type player. He played right field his freshman year at Ole Miss, and he performed well. Then he played second base his sophomore year.

“[This year] Servideo moved over to shortstop, and in a sample size of 17 games, really played the position well. The interesting think about Servideo is, if you go back and look, his freshman and sophomore years, in [271] at-bats, he only hit four home runs. He had five home runs in 59 at-bats this year. That’s a big upswing from a power standpoint.

“He had nine stolen bases. The kid can really run. I think he was 24-for-26 at stealing bases his sophomore year. He was on pace to steal 30 or more this year and hit 15 home runs, too. If he’d have hit 15 home runs with 30 stolen bases, and he was hitting .390 when the season ended.

“If he had put those numbers up there, you could have really well been talking about him as a potential MVP in the SEC. I want to see his progression because he appeared to be taking a huge jump from his first two years in the SEC.

“He’s a smaller kid, 5-10ish, an athletic kid, a kid who can really run, a kid who you could probably really bounce him anywhere in the infield if you had to. Maybe he does settle in as an everyday second baseman. I think he can play shortstop, too. I think you can stick him in the outfield if his bat works.”

Update on undrafted free agents: According to Baseball America, the Orioles have signed seven undrafted free agents. The most recent are Isaiah Kearns, an outfielder and right-handed pitcher from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and outfielder Dylan Harris from North Carolina.





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